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How can I check whether the person is a licensed attorney in Iowa? How do I know that they are authorized to practice here?

You can search the database of lawyers (opens new window) who have been licensed to practice law in Iowa. 

A search by last name only is usually the best way to start this search. If the search does not locate the individual, or if their license status is not listed as “Active”, you may wish to contact the Office of Professional Regulation at (515) 348-4670.

I have been the victim of an individual practicing law without a license, what should I do?

You are strongly encouraged to file a written complaint with the Commission on the Unauthorized Practice of Law. The complaint form is available below in both Word and PDF format. If the individual has prepared any documents, or if you have other proof that they have practiced law, please include a copy of those documents with your complaint.

Are UPL complaints public?

The complaint and supporting materials submitted to the Commission are confidential. Neither the documents nor your identity will be shared with the person or business you have complained about.

Is there a charge for filing a complaint?

No. There is no charge for filing a UPL complaint.

What will happen to my complaint after it is filed?

You will receive verification of receipt of the complaint. The person about whom you have complained (the respondent) will be sent notice that a UPL complaint has been filed, and information will be requested of the respondent to help ascertain the facts and circumstances.  The complaint will be investigated by staff at the Office of Professional Regulation, and the complaint and any materials gathered by the staff will be forwarded to the Commission at their next regular quarterly meeting, and more investigation may be authorized by the Commission. Depending on the circumstances and facts, the complaint may be closed, further investigation may be authorized, or referred for civil prosecution.

When does the Commission meet?

The Commission meets four times a year—typically in March, June, September, and December.

What can the Commission do if it is UPL?

The Commission may file a civil suit to enjoin the respondent from engaging in the actions which constitute the unauthorized practice of law. Please note: The Commission’s actions regarding a complaint of UPL will not help to directly reimburse the victim for any losses they have suffered.  However, the Commission’s actions also do not preclude any private civil remedy available to the victim. Victims should consult a private attorney to determine what, if any, reimbursement may be available.

I’m not sure if the services I want to provide to customers may be the unauthorized practice of law…

The UPL Commission is not authorized to provide advisory opinions. If you are contemplating an undertaking and think that you may be overstepping the bounds, you will want to carefully read the rules pertaining to the unauthorized practice of law. You may also wish to confer with a licensed Iowa attorney.

Are there certain areas of practice that non-lawyers can represent themselves or others in?

An individual can represent themselves in their own personal legal action; this is called appearing pro se. A non-lawyer who is an officer or employee of a business entity is authorized to represent the business entity in small claims court only (Iowa Code section 631.14). Also, in a very limited number of agency actions and federal matters, non-Iowa lawyers may be able to represent themselves or Iowa citizens. However they may not hold themselves out as attorneys unless they have been admitted to practice in Iowa. Moreover, individuals who have previously been licensed in Iowa should be very careful about engaging in these actions, because the allowable tasks for a lay person and formerly licensed attorney can differ greatly.

I’m an attorney in another state, but not currently active/licensed in Iowa. Will I be perpetrating UPL by my involvement in an Iowa case?

Perhaps. You may wish to consider application for admission or reinstatement to the Iowa bar, or admission pro hac vice if an action is already underway and you have never been admitted to the Iowa bar.

I’m an Iowa lawyer, and I want to hire a non-lawyer to assist me with my practice. Could this be aiding and abetting the unauthorized practice of law?

Perhaps. UPL can occur in various forms. Most frequently, UPL is found when a non-lawyer holds themselves out as an attorney. But UPL can also be found when a licensed attorney aids or abets a non-lawyer practicing law in Iowa. Iowa Rule of Professional Conduct 32:5.3 describes a lawyer's responsibilities regarding non-lawyer assistants. Comment 2 to Iowa Rule of Professional Conduct 32:5.5 provides that a lawyer is not prohibited “from employing the services of paraprofessionals and delegating functions to them, so long as the lawyer supervises the delegated work and retains responsibility for their work."

Has Iowa adopted a rule providing for the multijurisdictional practice of law?

Yes. Iowa Rule of Professional Conduct 32:5.5 contains Iowa’s adoption of the so-called multijurisdictional practice rule.  Attorneys licensed in other states who do not have an Iowa law license are encouraged to become familiar with rule 32:5.5 before undertaking any practice in Iowa.

Are the UPL rules the same for every state?

No. There is wide variation not only in the applicable rules, but also in the remedies available to prosecutors and even the definition of the practice of law.

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