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Unauthorized practice of law: Can a Corporation represent itself for Workers’ Compensation in North Carolina?

Once a business has become incorporated, what can it legally do for itself in North Carolina in the Industrial Commission?  The Industrial Commission is the governing body for workers’ compensation. Black’s Law Dictionary defines a motion as “an application made to a court or judge for purpose of obtaining a rule or order directing some act to be done in favor of the applicant…”  Black’s Law Dictionary, Abridged Sixth Edition (1991). The practice of law is defined by the North Carolina General Statutes as: The phrase “practice law” as used in this Chapter is defined to be performing any legal service for any other person, firm or corporation, with or without compensation, specifically including the preparation or aiding in the preparation of deeds, mortgages, wills, trust instruments, inventories, accounts or reports of guardians, trustees, administrators or executors, or preparing or aiding in the preparation of any petitions or orders in any probate or court proceeding;  abstracting or passing upon titles, the preparation and filing of petitions for use in any court, including administrative tribunals and other judicial or quasi-judicial bodies, or assisting by advice, counsel, or otherwise in any legal work;  and to advise or give opinion upon the legal rights of any person, firm or corporation: ………. N.C.G.S. §84-2.1 Except as otherwise permitted by law, it shall be unlawful for any person or association of persons, except active members of the Bar of the State of North Carolina admitted and licensed to practice as attorneys-at-law, to appear as attorney or counselor at law in any action or proceeding before any judicial body, including the North Carolina Industrial Commission, or the Utilities Commission;  to maintain, conduct, or defend the same, except in his own behalf as a party thereto;  or, by word, sign, letter, or advertisement, to hold out himself, or themselves, as competent or qualified to give legal advice or counsel, or to prepare legal documents, or as being engaged in advising or counseling in law or acting as attorney or counselor-at-law, or in furnishing the services of a lawyer or lawyers;  and it shall be unlawful for any person or association of persons except active members of the Bar, for or without a fee or consideration, to give legal advice or counsel, perform for or furnish to another legal services, or to prepare directly or through another for another person, firm or corporation, any will or testamentary disposition, or instrument of trust, or to organize corporations or prepare for another person, firm or corporation, any other legal document…….. N.C.G.S. §84-4. Further, and specifically with regard to corporations: (a) It shall be unlawful for any corporation to practice law or appear as an attorney for any person in any court in this State, or before any judicial body or the North Carolina Industrial Commission, Utilities Commission, or the Employment Security Commission, or hold itself out to the public or advertise as being entitled to practice law;  and no corporation shall organize corporations, or draw agreements, or other legal documents, or draw wills, or practice law, or give legal advice, or hold itself out in any manner as being entitled to do any of the foregoing acts, by or through any person orally or by advertisement, letter or circular. …. N.C.G.S. §84-5 (a). The Court further clarified specifically that formal court proceedings are not to be handled by a salaried employee of a corporation, such as a workers’ compensation insurance company, but instead by a duly licensed attorney. N.C.G.S. §84-5(a)(2)(c). Therefore, a business must hire outside counsel to defend itself with regard to a workers’ compensation claim.

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