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Ethics Opinion

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CI-689

November 11, 1981

SYLLABUS

    A layman appearing for a corporation or a partnership in response to an alleged violation of an ordinance is engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.

    It is the duty of a lawyer who knows of the appearance of a layman on behalf of a corporation or a partnership to bring that fact to the attention of the court.

    References: MCPR Canon 3; MCPR DR 3-101(A); Detroit Bar Assn v. Union Guardian Trust Co., 282 Mich 707 (1938).

TEXT

A municipal lawyer prosecutes violations of city ordinances punishable as misdemeanors by corporations or partnerships. Such corporations and partnerships are sometimes represented by laymen who appear in court and handle plea negotiations, pretrial conferences and trials. The lawyer asks whether the lawyer has a duty to report the activity as unauthorized practice.

Detroit Bar Assn v. Union Guardian Trust Co., 282 Mich 707 (1938) holds that a corporation cannot handle its own legal affairs except through a lawyer. Similarly, Opinion 3619 of the "Digest of Bar Association Ethics Opinions" (Maru and Clough), American Bar Foundation, states: "A Corporation may not be represented in court by its layman officer or employee."

Canon 3 states:

    "A Lawyer Should Assist in Preventing the Unauthorized Practice of Law."

DR 3-101(A) provides that:

    "A lawyer shall not aid a nonlawyer in the unauthorized practice of law."

We find no pertinent difference between the handling of civil matters and the handling of criminal matters by a layman representative of either a corporation or a partnership.

The American Bar Foundation "Annotated Code of Professional Responsibility" (1979) states:

    "DR 3-101(A) prohibits a lawyer from 'aiding' a non-lawyer in the practice of law. Thus, an attorney violates DR 3-101(A) if he introduces to client a person he knows to be unlicensed in the jurisdiction, conveys the impression that this person is an associate, and permits him or her to consult with clients without the supervision of an attorney. Bluestein v. State Bar, 13 Cal 3d 162, 118 Cal Rptr 1754, 183 (1975). Page 133.

    "One court has interpreted the lawyer's duty not to aid an unauthorized practitioner as imposing on him an affirmative duty to call such practice to the court's attention." Page 134.

Based on the foregoing it is our opinion that a layman appearing for a corporation or a partnership in response to alleged violation of an ordinance is engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, and it is the duty of a lawyer who knows of the appearance of a layman on behalf of a corporation or a partnership to bring that fact to the attention of the court.

 
     

 

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