New York Restricts Free Legal Advice. Now It Faces a First Amendment Lawsuit

Two pastors and their nonprofit sued the State of New York. The lawsuit sought to recognize the First Amendment rights to free counsel to people fighting bankruptcy cases, even though they do not have a legal license. 

New York City pastor Rev. John Udo-OkonHe noticed that many of his fellow congregants were being sued for debt collection. Udo-Okon teamed-up with the civil rights non-profit to assist. Get it solved. The company offers free financial counseling, which includes helping clients file for bankruptcy. 

Udo Okon offers legal guidance free of charge to help people contest a debt case. However, New York is like all other states that prohibits the giving of legal advice without a license.

Upsolve and Udo-Okon have filed a lawsuit against New York State in the United States District Court in New York’s Southern District, arguing that broad restrictions on legal advice are an infringement on freedom of speech. 

Udo Okon stated in a press release that members of his community have been excluded from the opportunity to defend their rights and left with an oppressive system of justice stacked against them.

Institute for Justice, a law firm of public interest and justice, launched several similar First Amendment occupational licensing suits in the past. IJ Senior Counsel Robert McNamaraArguments that the most recent case law is incontestable Give Upsolve’s lawsuit the chance to succeed.

McNamara represented Ron Hines of Texas, who was a champion for email communication with pet owners. Texas law prohibitsClient-veterinarian relationships can be established over the phone, or through other electronic devices. However, in-person pet examinations are required. There are many ways to help your pet. Hines v. Quillivan (2020). The United States Fifth District Court of Appeals ruledHines was not in violation of his requirements for a veterinary in person examination and was only engaging in protected speech. This is not lawful veterinary conduct.. McNamara states that the Upsolve lawsuit has a similarity in that Udo Okon will not practice law and only offer legal assistance.

McNamara believes that giving legal advice to someone should be protected speech under the Constitution. This is because if someone stops speaking or if speaking is an integral part of a profession it restricts them from offering a service to others. McNamara stated that fundamentally, people can decide who to listen to.

Marshal Coleman is a New York City consumer lawyer. He says that many people with unpaid debts owe thousands, which makes it difficult to hire an attorney.

Coleman stated that a typical client will not be able help themselves if they approach a lawyer like Coleman. The fees would exceed the value of the debt. The New York Times.

According to a Pew ReportAt least 4 million Americans are facing consumer debt litigations. Only 10% retain legal counsel, while 70% of the cases result in default. 

It ReportedIt notes that existing state laws do mean well. They are intended to protect those seeking legal assistance from fraud. However, the suit argues that these rules don’t stand up against First Amendment scrutiny. It also stated that plaintiffs won’t charge for the advice and there wouldn’t be any financial incentive for fraud.

Udookon and Upsolve hope that the Court will rule in their favor. They believe current New York law violates their First Amendment rights. The state is seeking an injunction that will permanently stop them from being taken to court, as well as coverage for their legal costs and damages of one dollar.

Rohan Pavuluri, Upsolve CEO and founder of Upsolve said in a press release that “We believe this case is one all Americans can support.” The law doesn’t give us equal rights. If you have the means to afford a lawyer, we do not have equal rights. This is a fundamental injustice of our times.