Monday, April 14, 2014

Bespoke legal advice

'Bespoke' is one of those words that will haunt your dreams until you look it up in a dictionary. I'll save you the trouble. It's an adjective meaning, "made to fit a particular person." Typically, it is used to describe tailor-made clothes that are uniquely fitted a particular person.

One end of the legal service spectrum is the one-to-one personal relationship between an attorney and a client that depends upon a high level of mutual confidence and trust. A significant part of legal professionalism focuses upon protecting the integrity and confidentiality of the attorney-client relationship through rules of ethics and disciplinary enforcement. The communications between lawyers and their clients enjoy the protection of an evidentiary privilege that generally is not available to other types of relationships.

The other end of the legal service spectrum is the anonymous and impersonal marketplace of cavaet emptor. Mostly unregulated and unsupervised, the marketplace is full of uncertainty and peril. Anyone can visit a law library or search online and access the very same source materials and model forms that lawyers use. The challenge for the non-lawyer is to find the one suit out of thousands that fits. A custom made suit fits much better than one bought off the rack, but it is also much more expensive. So it is with bespoke legal advice.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse, they say, but ignorance of the law is rampant. Lawyers have a professional duty to educate the general public on legal rights and obligations, but that is no simple matter and doing it isn't easy.

If you read a dozen opinions on the topic of the unauthorized practice of law you will be impressed by the nobility of intention expressed for protecting the public from legal incompetence. You may also notice that the opinions never, ever, discuss the quality of legal service offered by the individual charged with improper encroachment upon the lawyers' domain. You might also notice that the complaints usually originate from lawyers and not from disgruntled customers.

These turf wars present an interesting puzzle.

The Kentucky Supreme Court Rule 3.020 defines the practice of law this way:
"The practice of law is any service rendered involving legal knowledge or legal advice, whether of representation, counsel or advocacy in or out of court, rendered in respect to the rights, duties, obligations, liabilities, or business relations of one requiring the services. But nothing herein shall prevent any natural person not holding himself out as a practicing attorney from drawing any instrument to which he is a party without consideration unto himself therefor. An appearance in the small claims division of the district court by a person who is an officer of or who is regularly employed in a managerial capacity by a corporation or partnership which is a party to the litigation in which the appearance is made shall not be considered as unauthorized practice of law."

The question is, what is the meaning of "any service rendered . . . [to]one requiring the services"? A non-lawyer might think it has something to do with "services".

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