Bar News - April 17, 2009
Court Approves Agreement to Stop Unauthorized Practice of Law
The Hillsborough County Superior Court has approved a Consent Decree between the State of New Hampshire and Jake Collette of Peterborough regarding violations of the Consumer Protection Act and laws prohibiting the unauthorized practice of law, the NH Department of Justice has announced.
In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough County Superior Court, the state alleged that Collette engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in violation of RSA 311, and engaged in unfair or deceptive acts in violation of RSA 358-A, the Consumer Protection Act. The lawsuit alleged that Collette, under the name Collette Advocacy, placed postings on craigslist.com, and other on-line classifieds pages, advertising he could provide "complete legal services" and could prepare "legal documents, advice, motion/petition, strategy and more." The lawsuit alleged Collette advertised he could provide legal assistance in the areas of child custody and child support.
Under the terms of the Consent Decree approved by the court, Collette acknowledged that he engaged in the unauthorized practice of law and violated the Consumer Protection Act. The decree also states that Collette shall not engage in the practice of law, draft legal documents or give legal advice to anyone other than himself. The Consent Decree also includes a $5,000 civil penalty, all but $100 of which is suspended for a period of two years. The suspended portion of the civil penalty will become immediately due and payable if Collette is found in an administrative, civil, or criminal enforcement action to have violated the terms of the Consent Decree.
Attorney General Kelly Ayotte said "In New Hampshire, there exists a strong public policy against the unauthorized practice of law. The rights and responsibilities of individuals are determined by the courts, and consumers are put at risk if they falsely believe they are working with someone who is trained to practice law. This lawsuit continues to demonstrate the State’s commitment to enforcing New Hampshire’s consumer protection laws."
Richard Head, associate attorney general, said the prosecution resulted from referrals from multiple sources, including the Bar Association, and he said that the Justice Department looks into all inquiries or complaints. He said there have been several other investigations conducted in the past few years that resulted in voluntary compliance by individuals who were promoting services that could be considered unauthorized practice of law.
In 2007, the NHBA appointed a task force to review and recommend potential steps to be taken to improve the definition of the unauthorized practice of law, but the task force concluded that a consensus did not exist on how to more narrowly define the practice of law for this purpose. Read the report (7.5 MB, 138 page PDF) .