August 14, 2022

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The Legal System

NY legal orgs oppose nonprofit’s plan to give debt collection law advice

3 min read

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REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/Pool

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  • Upsolve seeks to allow non-attorneys to provide limited legal advice to low-income New Yorkers
  • Legal services groups say in amicus brief effort doesn’t address “pressing need”

(Reuters) – New York civil legal services and rights organizations are opposing nonprofit Upsolve Inc’s bid to clear the way for a free legal advice program, arguing a “wide array” of services already exist for low-income New Yorkers facing debt collection lawsuits.

The Wednesday friend-of-the-court brief came in response to Upsolve’s efforts seeking a preliminary injunction to allow it to train non-lawyers to give limited advice on responding to debt collection actions, without running afoul of state rules on unauthorized practice of law.

Upsolve and a South Bronx pastor sued New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office in Manhattan federal court in January, arguing that applying UPL rules to the planned program would violate the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

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Groups including Legal Services NYC and Volunteers of Legal Service said in Wednesday’s brief that rejecting Upsolve’s injunction motion wouldn’t cause “irreparable harm” because its proposal “does not address a pressing need.”

Organizations staffed by attorneys and supervised non-lawyers already offer a range of services for low-income New Yorkers sued on consumer debt, they wrote.

Upsolve’s proposed program also may not help those facing default judgment due to the practice of “sewer service,” when a debt collector falsely claims to serve people court papers, which is the main cause of default judgments, they said.

The groups said the program would not serve the public interest, as they claim Upsolve doesn’t say it will first try to refer people to existing free legal services attorneys nor does it claim attorneys will supervise non-lawyer volunteers.

Upsolve CEO Rohan Pavuluri said in a statement that although the organizations on Wednesday’s brief do “important, necessary work,” the only way for low-income families to access equal rights under law is “if we expand the supply of free, safe and accountable legal help to people who can’t afford lawyers.”

Matthew Lawson of the New York Attorney General’s Office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The case is: Upsolve Inc et al v. James, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 1:22-CV-00627.

For Upsolve: Zack Tripp of Weil, Gotshal & Manges

For the organizations: Matthew Brinckerhoff of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel

For James: Matthew Lawson of the New York Attorney General’s Office

Read more:

NAACP, profs seek to back nonprofit in lawsuit over free legal advice program

Nonprofit sues N.Y. AG over practice rules in bid to provide free legal advice

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Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Sara Merken

Sara Merken reports on privacy and data security, as well as the business of law, including legal innovation and key players in the legal services industry. Reach her at [email protected]

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