FTC: Ohio Court Should be Guided by Public Interest When Considering Definition of Unauthorized Practice of Law

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The Federal Trade Commission this week filed a brief amicus curiae with the Supreme Court of Ohio in Cleveland Bar Ass’n v. CompManagement, Inc. (Case No.: UPL 02-04). This case is an appeal from a decision rendered by Ohio’s UPL Board finding that CompManagement – an actuarial firm – had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law though its representation of employers in workers’ compensation matters before the Ohio Industrial Commission (IC).

Actuarial firms have practiced before the IC for at least 30 years. Although the Commission’s amicus brief supports neither party, it contends that “the UPL Board’s decision appears to bar non-attorneys from performing tasks that previously they were able to perform. Indeed, to adopt the full logic of the UPL Board’s decision is to risk preventing non-attorney practice before the IC altogether.” The brief urged the Supreme Court of Ohio to consider the public interest when determining whether non-attorney practice before the IC constitutes the unauthorized practice of law by balancing the benefits from competition against any harm that results from non-attorney representation.

Specifically, the brief argued that: 1) prohibiting lay practice before the IC is likely to cause employers and claimants to have less choice and pay higher prices; 2) banning non-attorneys from practicing before the IC is not likely to provide employers or claimants with any additional protections; and 3) there is no evidence that the current practice of law, which allows lay representation before the IC, has harmed consumers, and such lay representation is permitted before many state and federal agencies. Further, the brief noted that there are already less-restrictive alternatives for protecting consumers than banning or severely restricting non-attorney practice before the IC.

Maureen Ohlhausen, Acting Director of the FTC’s Office of Policy Planning, said when the brief was issued, “Absent evidence that consumers are harmed from lay practice before the IC, there is no good reason to deprive Ohioans of the benefits that flow from competition between attorneys and non-attorneys.”

The Commission vote authorizing the filing of the amicus brief, which can be found as a link to this press release on the FTC’s Web site, was 5-0. (FTC File No. V040023; staff contact is James Cooper, Office of Policy Planning, 202-326-3367.)

Copies of the documents mentioned in this release are available from the FTC's Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580. Call toll-free: 1-877-FTC-HELP.

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