99 N.J.L.J. 505
June 10, 1976
Corporate Appearances Before Zoning Boards of
Adjustment and Planning Boards - Supplement to
Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee
Opinions 13 and 16
The effect of correspondence to the Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law appointed by the Supreme Court of New Jersey has been to request a supplement to the Committee's Opinions 13, 98 N.J.L.J. 27 (1975), and 16, 98 N.J.L.J. 568 (1975), as to whether a non-profit corporation incorporated under Title 15 of the New Jersey statutes (referred to as a taxpayers association) may appear and express its views concerning applications of others through an individual who is not an attorney-at-law. In those opinions the Committee stated that generally a corporate applicant before a board of adjustment or a planning board must be represented by an attorney because of the various legal problems that arise in such proceedings. In Opinion 16, supra, 98 N.J.L.J. 568, the Committee noted that representation by an attorney would not be necessary before a planning board where full notice and a hearing were not required.
"What constitutes the practice of law does not lend itself to precise and all-inclusive definition." Auerbacher v. Wood, 142 N.J. Eq. 484, 485 (E. & A. 1948). "In determining what is the practice of law, it is well settled that it is the character of the acts performed and not the place where they are done that is decisive." Stack v. P.G. Garage, Inc., 7 N.J. 118, 120 (1951). The practice of law is certainly "not confined to litigation." New Jersey Bar Ass'n v. Northern N.J. Mtge. Associates, 32 N.J. 430, 437 (1960). R. 1:21-1(b) in general prohibits the practice of law by a corporation, and does not draw any distinction between a corporation for profit as opposed to a charitable or non-profit corporation. There is no difference between corporations organized for profit and non-profit corporations in the area of what acts constitute the unauthorized practice of law. People v. Chicago Motor Club, 362 Ill. 50, 199 N.E. 1, 4 (1935); People v. Association of Real Estate Planners, 354 Ill. 102, 187 N.E. 823, 826 (1923).
It is the opinion of this Committee that because the practice of law cannot be precisely defined that this Committee cannot specifically determine what acts any corporation may or may not do before a planning board or board of adjustment without being represented by an attorney. We see no objection to a non-attorney corporate agent voicing a simple objection to the granting of an application, or to stating factual or aesthetic reasons for denying an application. However, such a non-attorney corporate agent cannot examine witnesses, cite legal authority, nor interpret laws or ordinances without engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.