A New York nonprofit, Upsolve, started out helping automate the bankruptcy process for low-income Americans. Then it stumbled into a related problem: Many of the families it served were on the receiving end of a barrage of intimidating letters, calls and lawsuits from debt collectors insisting they owed boatloads. Knowing that many of these mistake-riddled cases would have been easy to dismiss if only their clients had been able to afford lawyers, Upsolve sought to offer a helping hand, in the form of free legal advice.
That’s when they ran head-first into state statutes that make it a felony, punishable by up to four years in prison, to engage in the unauthorized practice of law.
Now, with the help of fully credentialed attorneys, they are challenging that law in Manhattan federal court. Tuesday, they scored an early victory, as Judge Paul Crotty granted Upsolve’s motion for a preliminary injunction, ruling on First Amendment grounds that the state cannot enforce its prohibition against the free advice program.