Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Legal Reference and the Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL)
Library patrons research the law for many reasons. Some are simply curious about legal issues and their legal rights. Students of all ages research the law for school reports and papers. However, it becomes more complicated for the librarian when a patron is researching the law to draft her own will or start her own business or represent herself in a divorce or other court proceeding.
The term “pro se” refers to individuals who are planning to represent themselves in a legal matter without an attorney. The last few decades have witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of pro se or self-represented litigants (SRLs). And, because people naturally turn to libraries as sources of information, there has also been a dramatic increase in the number of library patrons seeking assistance with legal information and materials.
This presents a challenge for law librarians and non-law librarians alike—How do we provide legal reference assistance without giving legal advice? In South Carolina, if a non-lawyer gives legal advice, it is considered the unauthorized practice of law, which is a felony punishable by a fine of up to five thousand dollars or up to five years in prison, or both (See S.C. Code Ann. § 40-5-310). The following sections on What is the Practice of Law? and Best Practices for Legal Reference provide basic guidelines for avoiding any such dilemma.
The following books are excellent resources for any public library collection. All address how to avoid the unauthorized practice of law.
Legal Reference for Librarians: How and Where to Find the Answers by
Call Number: KF240 .H38 2014
Publication Date: 2014
Chapters 1-3 address providing reference services without offering legal advice.
Finding the Answers to Legal Questions, Second Edition by
Publication Date: 2017
See Chapter 5 for a discussion of the reference interview and legal information versus legal advice.
Finding the Answers to Legal Questions Companion Website
This companion website updates the print and online resources for individual chapters and appendices in the Finding the Answers to Legal Question book above. Use the "Chapter Resources" or "Appendices" tabs or Site Map to navigate the site.
The Law of Libraries and Archives by
Call Number: KF4315 .C37 2007
Publication Date: 2006
See Chapter 8 on the unauthorized practice of law and medicine.