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What is the Practice of Law?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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The practice of law involves engaging in the provision of legal services. In most nations, people can only practice law if they are admitted to the bar. People who are not lawyers can be penalized for practicing of law without authorization. This includes suspended and disbarred attorneys who attempt to practice, along with people like paralegals who overstep the boundaries in terms of the types of duties they can perform. The definition of "law" is itself a bit nebulous, and sometimes deciding whether or not a given case constitutes unauthorized practice of law can be challenging.

Going to court on behalf of someone else is one example of practice of law, and it's often the first one people think of when they hear the word "lawyer." Drafting legal documents such as wills, providing legal advice, representing someone legally, helping people prepare cases, and expressing legal opinions are also all also included under this term, however. While people are allowed to represent themselves, representing another person, even without pay, is usually not authorized.

Numerous ethical standards guide the practice of law. Attorneys are expected to adhere to ethical guidelines in order to retain their bar membership. In addition, individual employers of lawyers and other legal personnel may have limitations on their personnel for ethical or legal reasons. For example, someone who is involved in practice of law with the government, such as a clerk to a judge, may not be allowed to participate in political campaigns because this could be viewed as a violation of legal neutrality.

Part of the practice also includes certain rules about the lawyer-client relationship. This relationship is an example of a privileged relationship; communications between lawyer and client, for example, can be kept confidential. Lawyers must comply with numerous legal and ethical obligations when interacting as clients. If they do not, they can be disbarred and they will no longer be permitted to practice law.

In order to be admitted to the bar to practice law, a person must demonstrate legal competency by passing the bar exam. In addition, an applicant is required to pass a background check, which is used to investigate his or her character and history. This is designed to ensure that people of high integrity are practicing as lawyers, and to eliminate people who may experience conflicts of interest or who may not be able to adhere with the ethical standards of the legal profession.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By bythewell — On Jul 14, 2011

One of the hazards of the internet is that people can give out legal advice and medical advice without any kind of repercussions.

In real life if you give someone "official" legal advice you could end up being sued as it says in the article.

But anonymous websites can pretend to have lawyers on them all they want and get away with it, particularly if they are based in a country without the rule about practicing law.

They don't care about the ethical problems in the practice of law, they just want to make a quick buck.

Please, be careful where you get your advice from, because it is not always trustworthy.

By KoiwiGal — On Jul 13, 2011

One of my favorite parts of the film "Catch Me if You Can" with Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio is the part near the end when Tom is asking Leo to tell him how he passed the bar exam. Tom is the policeman who has been hunting Leo (the master fraudster and thief) and Tom thinks he has figured out almost every one of Leo's tricks. The only one he hasn't been able to see through was how he managed to pass the bar exam.

Finally, Leo tells him the answer.

He actually studied his butt off and managed to pass the exam on his own merits.

I think it is at that moment that you realize how smart this man really was. It's incredibly hard to pass a bar exam, even if you have done years of law school and preparation, and he managed to do it.

He then got away with practicing law for a couple of years I think, but I feel like he was probably a pretty good lawyer!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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