Don't play lawyer, yet Featured

10:05am EDT July 22, 2002

For years, the procedure was routine: A local taxing authority assigned a value to a piece of real estate. If the owner didn't agree, he could file a complaint with a county board of revision, and if he didn't like that answer, he might then take it up with the state board of tax appeals. No need for a lawyer to sign the initial forms until things got into the later stages of battle.

But a decision last year by the Ohio Supreme Court has thrown some curves into the appeals process. It held that real-estate valuation complaints filed by those who didn't own the property constituted unlicensed practice of law.

"That came as news to a lot of companies, because a lot of corporate officers sign these things all the time," says attorney Charles Steines, of the Cleveland office of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue.

Relief may be on the way. A bill to correct the situation, already passed by the Ohio House of Representatives, is awaiting action by the state Senate.

In the meantime, companies are advised to exercise extreme care in signing these instruments. "Unless you own property in your name, you should have an attorney file it," Steines says. "Otherwise, the Supreme Court of Ohio could say that's the unlicensed practice of law."