If I create a legal document for my client on your law firm’s website am I giving legal advice or am I a "mere scribe"?

Is your role that of a mere scribe?

If your role is merely that of a "scribe or scrivener" as outlined below it is unlikely you would be deemed to be providing legal advice or engaging in the practice of law.

Caution: Some Online Legal Documents have evolved!

Unfortunately this is not as easy as it once was … when online legal document templates were all static "fill in the blanks" one-size-fits-all templates.

Increasingly, the capabilities + complexities of legal document automation have evolved to cater to an ever widening range of facts and conditions.

Using the complex design + incorporation of what we call Embedded-Lawyer Logic it is no longer possible to avoid the automated tailoring of the online legal document to suit the client's circumstances + legal needs.

They are designed to produce a quality bespoke legal document just like a lawyer does.

The use of Embedded-Lawyer-Logic™ in the online process:

✅ Is now very similar to a client being interviewed by a lawyer;

✅ It drills down to ask the same questions and provide the same options a highly experienced + competent lawyer is required to do.

As a result the draft legal document created now has the potential to vary significantly based on the responses provided by the client.

We have now progressed to the point that the new normal online process is designed to cause your role to fall outside of the role of a "scribe or scrivener" alluded to below.

In the leading case on this issue Legal Practice Board v Computer Accounting and Tax Pty Ltd [2007] WASC 184; 35 WAR 59 (Simmonds J) noted at para. [152] that Brinsden J in Barristers Board v Palm Management Pty Ltd [1984] WAR 101 referred to Re Matthews (1938) 79 P 2d 535, apparently with approval, as follows at para. [108]*:

The court went on to say that where an instrument is to be shaped from a mass of facts and conditions, the legal effect of which must be carefully determined by a mind trained in the existing law in order to ensure a specific result and to guard against others, more than the knowledge of the layman is required and a charge for such services brings it definitely within the term 'practice of the law' [emphasis added].

How to limit your role to that of a "scribe or scrivener"?

Therefore, we strongly recommend that you advise your client to either:

✅ Create the draft legal document themselves + ensure independent legal advice is sought from our legal team prior to negotiation and execution; or

✅ Instruct you to create the legal documents using our Lawyer-Assisted option.

Doing this ensures your role is clearly limited to that of a "scribe or scrivener".

Our legal team will then take the responsibility for reviewing your client's individual circumstances together with the draft legal document in order to provide your client with the relevant legal advice, ensure your client understands their legal position and options, and to propose and make any required amendments to the legal document based on your client's instructions.

What is a "mere scribe or scrivener"?

In Legal Practice Board v Computer Accounting and Tax Pty Ltd [supra]*:

… the court held that work of the mere clerical kind, such as filling out of skeletal blanks or drawing instruments of generally recognised and stereotype forms effectuating the conveyance or encumbrance of property, such as a simple deed or mortgage not involving the determination of the legal effect of special facts and conditions, should be generally regarded as the legitimate right of any layman because it involves nothing more or less than the clerical operations of the now almost obsolete scrivener (emphasis added).
(The scrivener was eliminated in England by the 1804 Act.).

The view of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia ... ^

Timely reminder

The 2007 case of the Legal Practice Board v. Computer Accounting and Tax Pty Ltd* serves as a timely reminder to members that there are legislative provisions in each state and territory which prohibit a person who is not a legal practitioner from engaging in legal practice.
This prohibition is mirrored in the Institute’s regulations relating to public practice (regulation 1207).
However, there are differences between the jurisdictions as to how the prohibition is framed.  

Even so, members who use the services of document providers are urged, as a minimum, to:
✅ Use only reputable document providers whose services are backed by competent legal practitioners;
✅ Ensure that they abide by the terms and conditions of the document providers as to the use of the documents and their supply to clients; and
✅ Avoid redrafting of documents to suit the circumstances of individual clients, unless appropriate legal advice is obtained by the relevant parties.

Seek legal advice

The Institute believes that the recent WA case does not require any change to a member's legitimate use of this type of service in accordance with their terms and conditions.
However, if you have any concerns or queries about the use of document providers, you should seek legal advice.

Sources:

* Legal Practice Board v Computer Accounting and Tax Pty Ltd [2007] WASC 184;

^ Extracted from the article: Court case raises issues about preparation of legal documents.

Credits:

This FAQ was created by James D. Ford GAICD | Principal Solicitor, Blue Ocean Law Group℠.

Important Notice:

This FAQ is intended for general interest + information only.

It is not legal advice, nor should it be relied upon or used as such.

We recommend you always consult a lawyer for legal advice specifically tailored to your needs & circumstances.