Lay Divorce Firms and the Unauthorized Practice of Law

Effective January 1, 1972, Michigan adopted a no-fault divorce law. Since that time, at least two firms in the Detroit area have gone into the business of providing assistance to people wishing to process their own divorces. These enterprises, which have been dubbed divorce firms or divorce kit firms, have come under heavy attack from the organized bar. The State Bar of Michigan has instituted court proceedings against one firm for the unauthorized practice of law, and a court on its own initiative has already issued an injunction against the other. These cases raise two important issues: whether the divorce firms are guilty of the unauthorized practice of law, and if they are and may therefore be enjoined from continuing their operations, whether to do so is in the public interest. As to the first of these issues, it is likely that on the basis of present law these firms may successfully be prosecuted for unauthorized practice. It is far less clear that this result is a desirable one. Evaluations of this sort should be made by weighing both the costs and the benefits flowing from the operation of lay divorce firms and from the prohibition of such firms. On the basis of such an analysis this article offers several suggestions for a new approach to divorce firms and the unauthorized practice of law.