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A Paralegal and former state Sen. in Montana, Jerry O’Neill, has prevailed in a recent court case that the attorney general had filed against him for his advertising as “deceptive as a matter of law.”

it seems the Montana Attorney General’s Office filed charges in June 2007 alleging that O’Neil violated the state’s Unfair Trade and Consumer Protection Act, seeking summary judgment in the case. This week the ruling denied the Attorney General’s summary judgment motion and supported O’Neill’s arguments.

O’Neill offers low cost preparation of documents for divorce and step-parent adoptions in Montana with attorney review supervision. O’Neill has since changed his advertising to make sure the public knows that there is an attorney reviewing his paperwork before his clients see the completed results. The Attorney General is seeking steep penalties against him: a $10,000 fine for each alleged violation; forfeiture of all fees received through the alleged unauthorized practice of law; forfeiture of his business phone number and a permanent injunction banning him from advertising or doing any legal work that only licensed lawyers can perform; and a $10,000 penalty for any future violations.

O’Neil said he is countersuing the state for “interfering in my business,” a pursuit he claims is motivated by resistance to any threat to the state’s lawyer “monopoly.”

I will update you as more information is received on this case. In California, as Paralegals we cannot complete paperwork on behalf of ‘clients’ without an attorney’s review and approval, unless we are a Legal Document Assistant, known as LDA. An LDA is not the same as a Paralegal. Pursuant to Business and Professions Code §6401(b) a Paralegal does not have to register as a Legal Document Assistant while acting on behalf of a member of the State Bar. A Paralegal, acting independently of an attorney, must register as a Legal Document Assistant if performing services to the general public.

As an LDA, you are regulated by Business and Professions Code Section 6400 et seq. You must register as an LDA in every county you will be performing services as an LDA. Once registered and upon preparing documents, you must provide the following per Section 6408 of the Business and Professions Code:

Your name, business address, telephone number, registration number, and county of registration shall appear on any solicitation or advertisement, and on any appropriate papers or documents prepared or used by the registrant, including, but not limited to, contracts, letterhead, business cards, correspondence, documents, forms, claims, petitions, checks, receipts, money orders, and pleadings.

It is unclear in the information available at this time, if LDAs are recognized in Montana or if a Paralegal must work under the supervision of an attorney. If any of you know the answer to this, please let me know.

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