Another Bite From the Law Firm’s Piece of the Pie

The use of non-lawyer representatives by employers in workers compensation cases does not constitute an unauthorized practice of law, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled, in a recent 6-1 decision.

In Cleveland Bar Assn. vs. CompManagement Inc. The Cleveland Bar Association filed a complaint with the Supreme Court’s Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law in 2004 alleging that Dublin, Ohio-based TPA CompManagement and its non-lawyer employees were engaging in the unauthorized practice of law in the course of representing employers in state workers comp claim proceedings before the Ohio Industrial Commission and Bureau of Workers Compensation.

The board agreed with the bar association in 2004, and again in December 2005, after the state Supreme Court remanded the case to re-examine CMI’s activities in light of new Industrial Commission guidelines. Specifically, the board found that based on the new guidelines, CMI’s non-attorney employees were performing work functions in four areas that were restricted to attorneys: settlement, examination of witnesses, hearing-room advocacy and recommendations to appeal or take other legal action.

The Supreme Court disagreed with the board’s conclusions, holding that neither CMI nor its non-attorney staff committed any specific act constituting the unauthorized practice of law. The president of the bar association issued a statement deferring to the wisdom of the court, but promising to remain vigilant to safeguard the boundary of what a layperson can do, and what constitutes the territory of an attorney.

A similar battle was recently fought in this same area in Pennsylvania with different –better — results for attorneys. But of course that can change at any time. That’s why it’s so important for PA attorneys to remain active in the bar association, particularly solo and small firm practitioners, who are always hit the hardest when another bite is taken from their pie.

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