Is it illegal to prepare a legal document if you’re not a lawyer?

Q: I am going to be a law student soon and have some legal knowledge- a family friend is being taken to small claims court for a landlord tenant dispute and wants to file a cross complaint. She asked me if I can prepare it for her. I am not sure if that is impersonating a lawyer or not since I do not have a law license yet. I don’t want to do anything illegal and I tended to think I would be impersonating an attorney. However, I am not sure if there are any statues that permit someone to prepare a legal complaint for someone so long as I tell her story as it is her position and just not represent her (as obviously I cannot do that). Any advice is helpful.

A: I think you can assist her and advise her. If you never identify yourself as her counsel or as a lawyer, do not charge her a fee and never identify yourself on the document or in a court as her lawyer, I think you are safe. I have been involved with pro se litigants who have been assisted by another person, a family member or friend. I have also served on Arbitration panels and have seen the same thing. As long as this is a friend and you are not in the business of doing this, you can advise her on the contents of the document and have her sign it, I think you are distanced from the unauthorized practice of law. If you need a more definitive opinion you can call the PA Disciplinary Board and ask for the Ethics hotline.

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