Can I Represent Someone Else in Court by Using a Power of Attorney?

Absolutely not.

Despite the fact that it is called “power of attorney,” a power of attorney will NOT substitute for a license to practice law.  While a power of attorney may give you broad powers to act on someone else’s behalf, trying to represent someone else in a court of law without a valid law license could land you in jail. 

Texas Penal Code Sections  38.122 and 38.123 (other states have similar statutes) make it a crime for a person to hold himself out as an attorney when he isn’t and to practice law without having a valid law license, if either is done in return for any type of benefit or compensation.

Although an unlicensed person may not represent another person in court, an unlicensed person may represent him or her own self in court.  This is sometimes referred to as appearing “pro se,” a Latin phrase meaning “for oneself.”  It is also referred to as “propria persona,” or “pro per,” for short, which is also based on a Latin phrase meaning “litigant in person.”

–Bonnie Sudderth, Judge of the 352nd District Court of Tarrant County, Texas

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6 Responses to Can I Represent Someone Else in Court by Using a Power of Attorney?

  1. RFO says:

    I have a rental home, which is jointly owned by my husband and I (we both live in Texas and were married in Texas). I (wife) had to evict a tenant for nonpayment of rents in a civil court. My husband lives in a different city within the state of Texas. The tenant (defendant) requested a jury trial. The jury ruled in her favor because she insisted that she had signed the rental agreement with my husband and, therefore, did not owe me a penny. She used the argument that we were separated (which is true, yet we’re still legally married) and made us look like enemies who were not on the same page for sueing her for the rents owed. I want to know if my husband sues her in a civil court, and grants me a power of attorney since he cannot be present in court, if I could act as his agent and appear for him in a pro se case for this matter. Would it be easier to appeal my own case and take a power of attorney to act on his behalf so she cannot use that as an argument in her favor in a higher court? Thank you.

    • Due to my position as a judge, I cannot give you legal advice in a specific case.

      However, I assume that you filed your original lawsuit in Justice of the Peace court, and if that’s the case, there are certain provisions in the law that apply to eviction suits which actually permit “authorized agents” to appear in court on behalf of the owner, even when the authorized agent is not an attorney. (Your second suggestion about using the power of attorney as evidence of consent by your husband might also work.)

      I would suggest that you consult an attorney to advise you in this, even if you do not hire the attorney to represent you in court. If you’re a landlord, it would probably be well worth the money to get some advice on this and other legal situations that might present themselves in the future in this area of the law.

      In Tarrant County, the Tarrant County Bar Association has a Legal Line service which allows persons to call the bar association on certain evenings each month and speak with an attorney who can advise you. It is a completely free, no-strings-attached service. Look at their calendar of events at http://www.tarrantbar.org, if you want to find out when the next Legal Line service is offered. Other bar associations in other parts of Texas may provide similar services, so you might consider contacting them as well.

  2. a.hosley@aol.com says:

    I am trying to find out if my brother can represent me in a custody case in the state he’s in because I’ve now moved out of the state? I also would like to know how to get an emergency injunction against the judges decision in the state I’ve moved to? Thanks

    • If your brother is a licensed attorney in the state where the case is pending, the answer is yes. If not, at least in Texas (and most other jurisdictions), the answer is no.

      Because of interstate agreements (agreements where each state agrees to enforce orders and writs out of each other’s states) and because of the good faith and credit clause of the U.S. Constitution, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to get an injunction against the enforcement of a court order in another state. I would strongly suggest that you contact an attorney to assist you in this matter. By proceeding without the assistance of an atorney, you will run the risk of getting yourself into more trouble than you may find yourself in now.

  3. Joe Testa says:

    Can I, a non-lawyer, provide legal research to my wife for suit in which only she is a named defendant?

    • Yes. You can help her out in any number of ways, and certainly providing legal research for her would be one way to help. What you cannot do is practice law without a license. Engaging in legal research is generally not considered practicing law, but if you were holding yourself out to be a lawyer or charging for your services, that might change things.

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