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Supreme Court Rules On Unauthorized Practice Of Law

By: Brian Brittain | 1/10/2005 | Category: Workers Compensation-WC Representation
In the much anticipated Ohio Supreme Court decision on the unauthorized practice of law, the Court offered a mixed bag of a verdict: non-lawyers who assist and represent parties in state workers' compensation claim proceedings are not considered to be engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, but only if they conform their activities to guidelines adopted by the Ohio Industrial Commission earlier this year.

The case, Cleveland Bar Association v. CompManagement, Inc., grew out of a recommendation earlier this year by the Board of Commissioners on the Unauthorized Practice of Law  (we reported on this issue extensively in the Second Quarter 2004 issue).  The Cleveland Bar Association had noticed that representatives of actuarial services and third party administration firms (TPAs) were routinely engaging in legal argument before hearing officers of the Industrial Commission or the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.  Such practice, argued the Bar Association, constituted the unauthorized practice of law and should be prohibited.  The Board agreed with the Bar Association, and issued its recommendation in May.  As the Board has no enforcement powers of its own, however, the matter went before the Ohio Supreme Court to decide whether to adopt the Board’s recommendation.

Ultimately, the Court refused to adopt the Board’s recommendation.  Pointing to such factors as longstanding tradition and “public interest factors,” the Court declined to exercise its authority to outright prohibit the use of non-lawyers in compensation proceedings.  Thus, TPAs will continue to operate and process worker’s compensation claims.

However, the Court codified into law several critical guidelines of the Industrial Commission of which all employers in the state should be aware.  According to the Court, non-lawyer representatives are not permitted to:  examine or cross-examine claimants or witnesses; cite to or interpret administrative rulings or court decisions; file briefs, memoranda, or requests for reconsideration; provide legal advice to employers; or comment upon opinions with respect to evidence and credibility of witnesses.  TPA representatives had routinely engaged in the foregoing practices in the past, as no formal court order forbid them from so doing.  With this decision, however, the door on such activities has effectively been slammed shut.

As we noted before, RB&S clients are fortunate to be in a situation where the decision of the Ohio Supreme Court will have no impact on them.

Brian and the workers compensation team are always looking for ways to save on your bottom line.  Call them at any time for more information.

Ross, Brittain & Schonberg Co., L.P.A.

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