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Notaries and the Unauthorized Practice of Law

by American Association of Notaries
Unless a notary is also a licensed attorney, he or she may not give legal advice or accept fees for legal advice. In civil-law jurisdictions, and in most common-law jurisdictions outside the United States, notaries are essentially lawyers who have extensive training in the drafting of documents. However, American common-law notaries do not have any legal authority unless they happen to also be a licensed attorney. As a result, it would be considered unauthorized practice of law for a non-attorney notary to give legal advice.

Many notaries often worry about inadvertently engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. This confusion is understandable because although notaries are not attorneys, non-attorneys can provide some legal services. Generally, a non-lawyer can sell blank legal forms, act as a transcriber (by typing information completed in writing by a client), sell general printed legal information, and perform their notary services for the fees established by law. A non-attorney cannot, however, advise a client how to complete a legal form or make changes to a legal form completed by a client.

Of course, notaries employed in the legal field, such as paralegals and legal secretaries, often draft or edit legal documents within the scope of their employment. In this case, these actions would not constitute unauthorized practice of law because the person is not acting as a notary when performing these tasks but is acting under the supervision of a licensed attorney.

Always consult your state's laws regarding what a non-lawyer can do. Be sure to exercise caution when performing any act which might be construed as the unauthorized practice of law.

By Robert T. Koehler, a Contributing Writer with the American Association of Notaries, Inc.
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Legal disclaimer: The American Association of Notaries seeks to provide timely articles for notaries to assist them with information and ideas for managing their notary businesses, enhancing their notary educations, and securing their notary supplies but makes no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained . Information in this article is not intended as legal advice. We are not attorneys. We do not pretend to be attorneys. Though we will sometimes provide information regarding federal laws and statutes and the laws and statutes of each state, we have gathered the information from a variety of sources. We do not warrant the information gathered from those sources. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate laws governing your state. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of an attorney in their state if they have legal questions about how to notarize.
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