How we define "the practice of law" has been a difficult question for a long time. At one point, the ABA created a task force to propose a model definition which was eventually disbanded because it could not reach a viable solution. And, more importantly, the answer to the question has tremendous implications.
The whole notion of regulation is based on the justification that there is something to regulate and that there is a reason for the regulation. We have a hard time justifying it if we can't define what it is we are trying to regulate and why. Likewise, the principle that lawyers need to be "admitted" to practice in a jurisdiction to be able to engage in the practice of law in that jurisdiction is equally shaky if we can't find a way to justify it.
Both principles are under attack. There is an ongoing debate on whether lawyers admitted in one jurisdiction should be allowed to practice in all other jurisdictions. In some jurisdictions, non-lawyers are allowed to engage in activities that could be considered to be the practice of law, and there are efforts in other jurisdictions to start allowing it. Many are arguing for the elimination of rules that prevent lawyers from partnering up with non lawyers. The use of technology has opened the door for computers to perform tasks that used to be performed by lawyers. And now Congress is considering legislation that would affect the regulation of the profession.
Where will it all lead? I don't know. But the discussion starts with the basic question: what is the practice of law?
Prof. Ronald Rotunda's most recent column at Justicia addresses the issue. You can read it here.