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Supervising a Nonlawyer Appearing in an Unemployment Hearing

Adopted: October 23, 2009

Opinion rules that a lawyer must provide appropriate supervision to a nonlawyer appearing pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. A796-17(b) on behalf of a claimant or an employer in an unemployment hearing.

Inquiry #1:

N.C. Gen. Stat. A796-17(b) allows a non-lawyer to represent employers in unemployment hearings provided the non-lawyer is supervised by a North Carolina licensed lawyer. The statute does not require the lawyer to be present at the unemployment hearing:

(b) Representation - Any claimant or employer who is a party to any proceeding before the [Employment Security] Commission may be represented by (i) an attorney; or (ii) any person who is supervised by an attorney; however, the attorney need not be present at any proceeding before the commission.

Attorney A is contacted by Corporation B, a business entity that would like to have its employees represent employers in unemployment hearings. As stated in a letter to Attorney A, Corporation B is looking for a lawyer to supervise the "corporation, its employees, and agents" in the representation of employers in unemployment hearings in North Carolina. May Attorney A accept and provide Corporation B with a letter of supervision that would indicate that Attorney A is supervising the corporation and its employees in the representation of employers in unemployment hearings?

Opinion #1:

No. N.C. Gen. Stat. A784-5 prohibits the practice of law by a business corporation. Rule 5.5(d) prohibits a lawyer from assisting in the unauthorized practice of law. Attorney A may not agree to supervise Corporation B or its employees and may not provide a letter of supervision to Corporation B.

Inquiry #2:

If Corporation B were not a corporation but another form of business entity, would the answer to Inquiry #1 change?

Opinion #2:


Inquiry #3:

Attorney A is contacted by C, a nonlawyer who would like to act as a claimant's or an employer's representative pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. A796-17(b). C asks Attorney A to give her a letter of supervision "for any and all unemployment hearings." The requested letter would not be limited to a specific pending unemployment claim, but would be used for any claim upon which C might represent a claimant or an employer in the future. On a periodic basis, C would provide Attorney A with a list of claims upon which she provided representation.

May Attorney A provide the letter of supervision to C?

Opinion #3:

Unless Attorney A will provide appropriate supervision to C in every unemployment hearing in which she appears, Attorney A may not provide the letter of supervision.

Although N.C. Gen. Stat. A796-17(b) does not require the lawyer to be physically present at a hearing, it contemplates that a lawyer will supervise a nonlawyer representative. Moreover, Rule 5.3 requires a lawyer to supervise the conduct of any nonlawyer who is retained or associated with the lawyer. Therefore, the lawyer must provide appropriate supervision under the circumstances. See RPC 216 (lawyer may supervise nonlawyer who is not employee, but lawyer is responsible for work product). Appropriate supervision would include determining the ability and knowledge of the nonlawyer before agreeing that the nonlawyer may appear at a hearing without the lawyer. Tt would also require the lawyer to have specific knowledge of and provide oversight for each claim to be handled by the nonlawyer.

A "letter of supervision" that represents that a lawyer is supervising a nonlawyer must be a truthful communication as required by Rule 7.1. If Attorney A is not going to supervise C with regard to each individual unemployment hearing, then the letter is a sham and Attorney A is assisting C in the unauthorized practice of law.

Inquiry #4:

C asks Attorney A to prepare and sign a letter of representation for C with blank spaces so that C may fill in the blanks with the identifying information for each hearing in which she represents an employer. May Attorney A provide such a letter?

Opinion #4:

See Opinion #3.

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