Notaries and the Unauthorized Practice of Law
Unless a notary is also a licensed attorney, he or she may not give legal advice or accept fees for legal advice. In civil-law jurisdictions, and in most common-law jurisdictions outside the United States, notaries are essentially lawyers who have extensive training in the drafting of documents. However, American common-law notaries do not have any legal authority unless they happen to also be a licensed attorney. As a result, it would be considered unauthorized practice of law for a non-attorney notary to give legal advice.
Many notaries often worry about inadvertently engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. This confusion is understandable because although notaries are not attorneys, non-attorneys can provide some legal services. Generally, a non-lawyer can sell blank legal forms, act as a transcriber (by typing information completed in writing by a client), sell general printed legal information, and perform their notary services for the fees established by law. A non-attorney cannot, however, advise a client how to complete a legal form or make changes to a legal form completed by a client.
Of course, notaries employed in the legal field, such as paralegals and legal secretaries, often draft or edit legal documents within the scope of their employment. In this case, these actions would not constitute unauthorized practice of law because the person is not acting as a notary when performing these tasks but is acting under the supervision of a licensed attorney.
By Robert T. Koehler, Contributing Writer with the American Association of Notaries, Inc.