In a complaint filed Tuesday, a non-profit organization and a pastor from the South Bronx sued N.Y. AG Letitia James, alleging that New York’s rules governing the unauthorized practice of law (“UPL”) prevent them from advising low income clients facing debt collection lawsuits, in violation of their First and Fourteenth Amendment Rights.  The non-profit organization plans to train non-lawyers to provide “reliable, free, straightforward, and narrowly circumscribed” advice to low income New Yorkers facing debt collection lawsuits “on a strictly non-commercial basis to ensure that defendants can understand their rights and respond to the debt collection lawsuits against them.”  However, New York’s UPL rules make it a crime and civilly sanctionable to engage in, solicit, or aid in the provision of legal advice by non-lawyers.

The complaint alleges that “applying New York’s UPL rules to bar Plaintiffs’ advocacy and expressive association violates Plaintiffs’ rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.” Plaintiffs allege New York’s UPL rules “punish Plaintiffs’ truthful, noncommercial, and non-misleading speech on the basis of its content” in violation of the First Amendment, and further violate their Fourteenth Amendment rights by preventing them from “associating to engage in collective activity for the purposes of expressing their personal beliefs in access to justice and ensuring that low-income New Yorkers can access their rights to be heard in court.”

The complaint seeks a declaration that “application of New York’s UPL rules to Plaintiffs’ truthful, nonmisleading, and good faith legal advice provided through the American Justice Movement would violate Plaintiffs’ protected rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution,” as well as a preliminary and permanent injunction to prevent the NYAG and any other state agency from taking action to interfere with Plaintiffs’ intended activities.

The case is pending before Judge Crotty.  The New York Times and Reuters have covered the suit.