Unauthorized Practice on Craigslist?


I was recently browsing Craigslist’s Legal Forum. On that forum, folks post legal problems and others answer them. Some of the answering posters identify as lawyers, but do not provide their names.

The forum describes itself as follows:

res ipsa loquitur

DISCLAIMER – craigslist is not responsible for, and you may not rely upon, the accuracy of any information or advice posted here – this forum is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only – you should consult with an attorney prior to acting on any information found here.

Will such boilerplate really protect CL if, say, the PA Bar were to seek an injunction again the discussion group for hosting the unauthorized practice under 42 PA C.S.A. 2524? Or if the Bar were ask the attorney general of Pennsylvania to seek criminal penalties under that section’s misdemeanor provisions? I’m imagine that CL would try to avoid liability by pointing to the “Terms of Use” provisions on the page, but do such disclaimers survive a Grokster-like analysis? Maybe Dan’s analysis of suing wikipedia would throw some light on this problem. I haven’t been able to find much in the legal ethics literature on this problem – and some might argue that state bars have enough on their hands without investigating internet practice.

Obviously, what constitutes the practice of law is a matter for debate, and you should feel free to visit the site yourself and make your own mind up.

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4 Responses

  1. Max says:

    Yikes, never cite a PA statute to make any general points — doth ye not know thar be dragons in the PA Unconsolidated?

    As for Craigslist, I don’t think a sensible rule could really be devised limiting the practice, except to hold those who claim to be lawyers liable. Law is “practiced” every day by millions of people, often anonymously over the internet. And in a free public forum like Craigslist, there is not the same danger of a paying client receiving bogus legal advice without any redress available. If you can make it to Craigslist, you can make it around to verify — or at least question — the citizen-to-citizen advice you receive.

  2. Seth R. Feldman says:

    im going to agree with Max…the average person picks up legal knowledge through their average, ordinary daily life. sharing it shouldn’t be restricted in any way and its only the person who puts themselves forward as a lawyer who should be held liable for offering incorrect advise.

  3. Dave Hoffman says:

    Max and Seth: I understand your argument, but the background law is that you don’t need to identify as a lawyer to be practicing law, merely exercising “legal judgment” (as a case I’m familiar with read). I also understand the intuition that payment should be a necessary condition for an UPL suit, but I wonder whether that would in the end result in some disastrous results for the poor.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Your website is wonderfull. I’ll come visit again.