100 N.J.L.J. 1118
December 22, 1977
Laymen Representing Applicants Before
Planning Boards or Boards of Adjustment
May laymen such as architects, engineers, realtors, accountants and others, not members of the bar of New Jersey, represent applicants before municipal planning boards or municipal boards of adjustment? In Opinions 13, 98 N.J.L.J. 27 (1975); 16, 98 N.J.L.J. 568 (1975); and 19, 99 N.J.L.J. 505 (1976), this Committee determined that corporations could only appear before boards of adjustment or planning boards through an attorney. The reasoning behind these opinions applies as well to laymen appearing on behalf of other laymen.
Under the Municipal Land Use Act, N.J.S.A. 40:55D-1, et seq., both boards of adjustment and planning boards exercise quasi- judicial functions. Hearings before said boards envision the presentation of testimony of engineers, architects, accountants, realtors, planning consultants and other witnesses. And, as we stated in Opinions 13, 16 and 19, supra, legal knowledge and skill are required in presenting evidence, examination and cross- examination of witnesses, qualifying expert witnesses, objecting or resisting objections to the admission of evidence and construing pertinent statutes, ordinances and judicial decisions. The public interest requires that such practice be limited to attorneys who are skilled in those arts and who are held by our courts to high educational and professional standards. See Unlawful Practice of Law Committee, New York Bar Association Opinion 10 (May 9, 1968) where New York reached a similar result.
The representation of applicants before municipal planning boards or municipal boards of adjustment is the practice of law. R. 1:21-1, section (a) sets forth the qualification of persons authorized to practice law in this State. Laymen such as architects, engineers, realtors, accountants or others who do not fulfill said qualifications may not represent applicants before said boards, as such action would constitute the unauthorized practice of law and be a violation of said rule.
Section (b) of R. 1:21-1 provides that all attorneys and pro se parties shall be under the control of the court in which they appear and subject to appropriate disciplinary action. Laymen such as architects, engineers, realtors, accountants and others who would represent applicants before such boards would not be subject to or under court control. That is another reason for the prohibition of law practice by such laymen, before said boards.
Section (c) of R. 1:21-1 sets forth the prohibition on corporations in the practice of law in this State. Subject to the exceptions set forth in said rule, a corporation must appear through an attorney authorized to practice law in this State. The fact that an officer, trustee, director, agent or employee of a corporation shall be an attorney authorized to practice in this State shall not be held to entitle such individual or corporation to do any act prohibited by these rules."
This Committee is of the opinion that the answer to the question posed is clear and convincing, as set forth in R. 1:21-1. We are not saying that every individual applicant before a municipal planning board or municipal board of adjustment must in every case have an attorney to represent him, for we recognize that the individual has a right to self-representation, however unwise that may be in a particular case. Neither are we saying that the individual applicant may not be accompanied at the hearing by an engineer, architect, accountant, realtor, planning consultant or other person who is present to testify as a witness on behalf of the applicant, whether or not the applicant is represented by an attorney. We are, however, saying that no such non-lawyer may appear before a municipal planning board or municipal board of adjustment in a representative capacity as an advocate for an individual applicant, since this Committee is here holding that such representation constitutes the practice of law and may only be undertaken by an attorney licensed to practice in this State.