Local News

Aug 21, 2013 5:35 PM by Janine Reyes

6 Investigates Follow Up: Unauthorized Practice of Law Cases

CORPUS CHRISTI -- Last week, we warned you about Craigslist ads that offer divorce or custody documents for a discount.

There's actually a committee of attorneys that investigate people offering legal advice when in fact they aren't qualified. They're called the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee and they investigate hundreds of complaints state wide.

A local attorney on that committee spoke with us about the growing problem.

"We can usually get them to enter into a cease and desist order and they'll stop," said attorney Craig Henderson.

We met with him after looking into an ad for divorce help posted by a woman who admitted to us by phone, she is not an attorney and doesn't have any qualified training to do this.

We don't even know who she is for sure, she wouldn't give us her name, but her phone number is posted on another Craigslist ad for a wedding dress for sale.

Henderson cannot comment directly on the woman's divorce and custody help ad or on our phone conversation with her, but he can say people giving legal advice they aren't qualified to give can cause absolutely devastating consequences.

"That can lead to a lot of complications in your lives," Henderson described, "usually what we're seeing is these are very important parts of people's lives, the divorce, trust mistakes, wills."

Consider this: once an order is made in court, it cannot simply be undone.

And just because his committee determines someone is giving legal advice that they aren't supposed to, that doesn't mean their cases are automatically overturned. In fact, nothing is automatic in the court system and it usually takes a qualified attorney to attempt to fix it.

"The expenses go way up, if you don't do it right the first time, it becomes very expensive to untangle the damage that was done," Henderson said.

Henderson says in the Coastal Bend, most complaints are about people selling forms that you can actually get free. That's okay, but suggesting which one to use or how to fill it out is not.

"We see complaints about people providing legal services when they say all they're going to do is sell a form, a legal form, a divorce form, a form associated with child custody," Henderson said.

But if you visit the District Clerk's office, they actually give out a website where you can find all those forms for free. Just fill them out pay a filing fee with the District Clerk.

As for the people profiting from giving legal advice they are not qualified to give, Henderson says they could end up with legal trouble of their own.

"If we have to go to court, we go to court and seek to get a restraining order from a judge ordering an individual to stop the unauthorized practice of law," Henderson described.

If someone unqualified gave you legal advice you can file a complaint online.

Also, if you are interested in filing your own suit, the District Clerks Office suggests you go to http://texaslawhelp.org/ for free forms.

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