Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Do you know? A company cannot represent itself in an Ohio court

In the April 9 New York Times, Jonathan Glater reported that more and more people are turning to self-representation during the current economic downturn. In Ohio, individuals may be able to do it themselves without lawyers, but businesses cannot.

If a business appears in court without an attorney, the representative is illegally engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. Under Ohio law, a corporation or other business only can maintain litigation or appear in court through an attorney. It may not do so through an officer of the corporation or some other appointed agent or representative. At least in Ohio, there is no such thing as a business appearing pro se (without a lawyer).

The only exception exists in small claims court, where a corporation can bring a claim based on a contract to which it is a party, as long as the representative does not “engage in cross-examination, argument, or other acts of advocacy.” For example, without a lawyer a company can file a claim in small claims court to recover an unpaid account. If the individual disputes the amount due, however, a non-lawyer cannot cross-examine the individual or argue to the magistrate.

Next time your business thinks about going it alone in court to save a few dollars, think about whether it worth the likely risk of a default judgment or dismissal of the case for not being represented by an attorney.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or jth@kjk.com.