As part of a continuing national effort, the New Jersey General Assembly has enacted a new law that increases penalties — including lengthy prison sentences — for individuals convicted of knowingly engaging in the unauthorized practice of law (UPL).
The new law, which went into effect last week, has serious implications for Notaries who overstep their ministerial duties. Individuals could be sentenced to up to 18 months in prison for knowingly engaging in UPL, and nonlawyers who create the impression that they are licensed attorneys, charge for legal services or cause harm to others through their actions face up to five years in prison. Notaries convicted of these offenses also lose their ability to be reappointed as a Notary.
The unauthorized practice of law can encompass a variety of activities, from giving legal advice and claiming to be able to represent individuals in legal matters to Notaries who, out of a desire to help, may try to answer signers’ questions about the document or type of notarization that is needed. Unless a Notary is a licensed attorney, offering any kind of legal advice is prohibited.
People convicted of these offenses also are precluded from denying thecriminal conduct in a civil case, making it much easier for victims to win civil lawsuits. The new law will require those judged civilly liable to pay damages of $1,000 or three times the costs incurredby the victim, whichever is greater.
Additionally, the law specifically mentions individuals who engage in UPL by holding themselves out to be immigration consultants. Many immigration service scams often are carried out by people advertising themselves as Notarios Publicos. The immigration-related provisions of the law come amid the Federal government’s nationwide campaign to combat immigration service fraud.