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

New York State Attorney General, Letitia James, speaks during a news conference in New York City
New York State Attorney General, Letitia James, speaks during a news conference at her office in New York City, New York, U.S., August 3, 2021. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
  • Upsolve says state practice rules prevent it from launching a program to help low-income New Yorkers
  • Initiative would assist those facing debt-collection lawsuits

(Reuters) - Nonprofit Upsolve Inc on Tuesday sued the New York attorney general's office to bar the state from enforcing unauthorized practice of law rules against a free legal advice program for low-income New Yorkers facing debt collection lawsuits that the organization wants to start.

Upsolve and Reverend John Udo-Okon, a pastor in the South Bronx, in a complaint filed in Manhattan federal court, seek a declaration that applying the state rules to the Upsolve program would be unconstitutional.

The project would equip non-lawyers to offer "reliable, free, straightforward, and narrowly circumscribed" legal advice on answering debt collection actions, the complaint said.

Upsolve and Udo-Okon said they are "chilled" from giving advice through the initiative "because of the threat of prosecution under New York's UPL rules," according to a motion for preliminary injunction.

The UPL rules prevent people who aren't lawyers from providing such "individualized" advice on responding to lawsuits, the filing said.

Rohan Pavuluri, CEO and co-founder of Upsolve, said the organization will only launch the program if it wins the lawsuit.

Upsolve and Udo-Okon are represented by a team of lawyers from Weil, Gotshal & Manges, including Zachary Tripp and Greg Silbert, co-heads of the firm's appellate practice.

New York Attorney General Letitia James' office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

New York City-based Upsolve, which, says it currently helps low-income individuals file for bankruptcy for free, said in the complaint that debt collection actions "are one of the most common kinds of lawsuits in New York."

The "vast majority" of defendants can't afford a lawyer or find pro bono counsel, and encounter language and other barriers to filling out a form provided by the state for responding to the lawsuits, leading many to default, the complaint said.

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

For the plaintiffs: Zachary Tripp and Gregory Silbert of Weil, Gotshal & Manges

For James: Unknown

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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