Nolo Press, publisher of books and computer software designed to let readers solve legal problems without lawyers, is under investigation by the Texas Supreme Court for possibly practicing law without a license. The court has the power to prohibit Nolo from selling its more than 80 books and software products in Texas, attorney Stephen Elias, the company's associate publisher, said. He said Nolo would fight any such action on constitutional grounds. Though all states ban the unauthorized practice of law, Texas is the only state that applies the ban to publishers, Elias said. Berkeley-based Nolo, founded in 1971, publishes legal self-help guides on subjects ranging from divorce and wills to copyright and small businesses. The company says it has sold more than 7 million books and software products and has never been challenged by any state until now. In a March 13 letter from its Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee, the Texas court asked Nolo to attend a hearing on Aug. 20 but did not give details of the charge or identify any publications. James Blume, the committee's chairman, said he could not comment on the specifics of the investigation, but believed Nolo was not being investigated for merely selling books. From his understanding of Texas law, he said, the company must be accused of actions that resemble the practice of law, such as instructing readers on how to fill out legal forms that the publications provide. Nolo has not decided how to respond to the court's letter, Elias said.
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