Monday, February 13, 2012
From the web page of the Rhode Island Supreme Court:
Before the Supreme Court was a request from the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee (committee) for guidance on whether nonlawyer union representatives engage in the unauthorized practice of law in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-27-2 when representing unions at public labor arbitration hearings.
After receiving a complaint filed by the Town of Little Compton (the town) against the Little Compton Firefighters Local 3957 (the union), the committee conducted an investigational hearing on the matter. In its complaint, the town contended that the union or its representative had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in violation of § 11-27-2 when the union allowed its nonlawyer business agent to represent it at a labor arbitration hearing. The committee’s report to the Court ultimately concluded that the union representative’s actions on behalf of the union constituted a “technical violation” of the statute governing the unauthorized practice of law. Mindful that this type of lay representation of unions in labor arbitrations is a common practice in Rhode Island, the committee petitioned the Court for guidance on how to proceed in the matter. After reviewing the committee record, the parties’ written submissions and oral arguments, and the many amicus briefs filed, the Supreme Court declined to limit this particular practice at this point in time.
The court's opinion is linked here.
The court notes that the lay representation is "commonplace" in Rhode Island, although that fact is not dispositive. Rather, the court concludes that public policy favors the continuation of the practice. The arbitrations are more about the "law of the shop" than strict legal principles. (Mike Frisch)