Non-Lawyer Head of Advocacy Group Practiced Law
A company and its owner engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by representing 20 nursing students claiming racism and discriminatory business practices against a college with a campus in Cleveland.
In a unanimous decision, the Ohio Supreme Court today ruled that William Hill and his company, the Advocacy Group, Inc., improperly entered into contracts with the students as an “attorney/advocate” and that Hill held himself out as their advocate in a letter to the school and in a meeting with the college’s lawyer about the claims. The students either had attended or were enrolled at the Eastlake campus of Bryant & Stratton College.
The court imposed a $20,000 civil penalty against Hill and the organization.
Hill, a retired police officer, has not attended law school and has not been admitted to practice law in Ohio or any other jurisdiction. His company ran a website, bryantstrattonscrewedme.com, and he was retained in 2008 to assist the 20 students. Each student signed a form appointing Hill and his company as his or her attorney/advocate.
Hill sent a letter to the director of the college’s Eastlake campus that alleged “institutional racism, racial profiling, financial profiling, [and] discriminatory business practices” and requested a meeting. He sent another letter, which demanded $5 million for the students, to the college’s lawyer before a meeting held on May 29, 2009.
Hill, four former students, and two lawyers met with counsel for the college at that meeting. The students stated Hill was representing them, and the discussion ended without a resolution.
Quoting a 2004 Ohio Supreme Court opinion, the court explained that it restricts the practice of law to licensed attorneys to “protect the public against incompetence, divided loyalties, and other attendant evils that are often associated with unskilled representation.”
By referring to himself as an attorney/advocate, representing clients for a fee, and trying to negotiate settlements of the students’ legal claims, Hill engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, the court stated in its per curiam opinion.
The court issued a $20,000 civil penalty against Hill and his company – $10,000 for the Advocacy Group’s contract to represent the students, and $10,000 for acting as the students’ advocate in correspondence to the college and during the subsequent meeting.
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