Parsons Technology, Inc. (Defendant), the publisher of Quicken Family Lawyer (QFL), was charged with violating the unauthorized practice of law statute in Texas.
To simply advise an individual regarding whether or not to file a form requires legal skill and knowledge, and therefore amounts to the practice of law.
The Texas Supreme Court appointed the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee (UPLC) (Plaintiff) to enforce the unauthorized practice of law statute in Texas. The Plaintiff alleged that the sale of a Parsons (Defendant) computer software program entitled Quicken Family Lawyer ’99 (QFL) violated Texas’s unauthorized practice of law statute and sought to enjoin further sales. Defendant removed the case to federal court and both parties moved for summary judgment. Defendant alleged that just selling books or software could not violate the statute because a plain reading of the statute requires some form of personal contact beyond the contact between a publisher and a consumer. Alternatively, Defendant claimed that the application of the statute to the mere sale and distribution of the software would infringe the speech rights of Defendant under the Texas and United States Constitutions.
Would simply advising an individual regarding whether or not to file a form requires legal skill and knowledge amount to the practice of law?
(Sanders, J.) Yes. To simply advise an individual regarding whether or not to file a form requires legal skill and knowledge, and therefore amounts to the practice of law. Based on the Teas courts’ interpretations of the statute, QFL falls within the range of conduct that Texas courts have determined to be the unauthorized practice of law. No genuine issues of material fact or disputed acts exist. Parson’s (Defendant) act of publishing QFL is undisputed, and the contents of QFL are undisputed. In addition, the statute passes the four-part test from United States v. O’Brien, 391 U.S. 37 (1968), and is constitutional. UPLC’s (Plaintiff) motion for summary judgment is granted.
The court in this case also held that there was no First Amendment violation. Since the purpose of the statute was to eliminate the unauthorized practice of law, its purpose had nothing to do with the suppression of speech. The content-neutral statute was held not to overburden protected speech rights. The injunction was vacated when a later amendment of the statute excluded computer software that clearly and conspicuously states it is not a substitute for advice from an attorney engaged in the practice of law.