USA’s Suits Presents UPL Questions

Characters are welcome, including a super-smart college dropout posing as a lawyer, on USA Network’s new legal drama Suits. The premise of the show surrounds Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams a brilliant young college-dropout who slips into a job interview with one of New York City’s best legal closers, Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht). Tired of cookie-cutter law school grads, Harvey takes a gamble by hiring Mike on the spot after he recognizes his raw talent and photographic memory. Mike is hired as an “associate” at a big law firm in New York City.

Besides Mike and Harvey, one of the other major characters on the show is the firm’s best paralegal Rachel Zane, portrayed by actress and model Meghan Markle. In the pilot episode that aired on June 23, 2011, Rachel proves her skills a keen legal researcher. Rachel has both brains and beauty but is not a skilled test-taker. She admits that she bombed the LSAT (law school admission test) and that she could never pass the bar exam.

The show Suits raises a number of legal and ethical issues, including unauthorized practice of law. New York’s Judiciary Law §§ 478 and 484 make it illegal for any person to practice or appear as an attorney-at-law or as an attorney for a person other than himself or herself. While unauthorized practice of law (UPL) is a felony in some states, violation of New York’s unauthorized practice of law is a misdemeanor. New York courts also have power to punish for a criminal contempt any person who unlawfully practices or assumes to practice law. The purpose of New York’s UPL law is to protect the general public from exploitation at the hands of unscrupulous or unskilled persons posing as attorneys, or unauthorized persons demanding or receiving compensation for purely legal services.

Besides the UPL violations by Mike Ross who pretends to be a lawyer, Mike’s boss and mentor, Harvey Specter, could also be found culpable for aiding and abetting the unauthorized practice of law. Along with criminal prosecution and contempt, Harvey could also potentially lose his license to practice law since he is a violating a host of ethical rules under New York Lawyer’s Code of Professional Responsibility.

Despite the host of legal and ethical issues surrounding the show, the pilot episode of Suits showed some promise for entertainment in developing characters and intriguing plot lines.