• Ohio Supreme Court Permits Non-Lawyers to Continue Limited Representation of Clients in Workers' Compensation Hearings
  • December 31, 2004
  • Law Firm: Squire, Sanders & Dempsey L.L.P. - Cleveland Office
  • Non-lawyers who appear and practice in a limited representative capacity before the Industrial Commission and Bureau of Workers' Compensation are not engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, the Ohio Supreme Court held December 15 in Cleveland Bar Association v. CompManagement, Inc., ___ Ohio St.3d ___, 2004-Ohio-6506. The court rejected the recommendations of its Board of Commissioners on the Unauthorized Practice of Law after hearing oral arguments and considering briefs submitted on behalf of the parties and amici curiae by more than a dozen lawyers and law firms, including Squire Sanders. The decision is being hailed as a victory for the business community.

    The case began in 2002, when the Cleveland Bar Association sued CompManagement, one of the state's largest actuarial service companies, alleging that the company and individual employees had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by representing clients in hearings before the commission and administering workers' compensation claims before the bureau. CompManagement argued that it was acting in accordance with its 1970 agreement with the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee of the Ohio State Bar Association, which adopted standards for the proper conduct of non-lawyers in administering workers' compensation claims.

    The Board of Commissioners issued a recommendation on May 18, 2004, finding that CompManagement's activities constituted the unauthorized practice of law. The Industrial Commission then adopted Resolution No. R04-1-01 to provide guidelines until the Ohio Supreme Court could adopt or reject the board's recommendation. Under the resolution, non-lawyers could continue to engage in some limited activities on behalf of employers or injured workers in claims administration, including attending hearings, providing actuarial services, and filing forms promulgated by the bureau or commission regarding premiums, payroll rate adjustments, settlements and handicap reimbursement applications. However, non-lawyers would not be permitted to engage in activities such as providing legal advice, examining and cross-examining witnesses at hearings, citing and interpreting legal provisions, filing pleadings and briefs, giving legal interpretations of testimony, affidavits and medical evidence, and providing legal arguments regarding the credibility of witnesses, the nature and weight of evidence, and the legal significance of the contents of claim files.

    In the decision issued Wednesday, the court decided that although some activities performed by actuarial service companies under the resolution could arguably be viewed as the practice of law, lay representatives should be permitted to continue to perform these limited functions in the administrative setting based upon important public interest factors. The court reasoned that adopting the recommendations of the Board of Commissioners would substantially alter the administrative landscape developed over more than 30 years, significantly curtailing the business of actuarial firms, impairing the ability of unions to represent their members, and increasing premium costs and attorney fees for workers' compensation claims in Ohio. The decision represents an important balance between the administrative services that actuarial companies and other non-lawyers may provide cost effectively for clients while ensuring that more sophisticated legal services are performed only by licensed lawyers.