I received a curious letter today. A Victoria Kremski of the Michigan State Bar, our state’s friendly lawyers’ guild, sent me a letter demanding that I explain myself. Curious because I was unaware that I was answerable to a private professional association whose primary purpose is to ensure that the law protects its turf from all competitors. Ah well, that’s why Ms. Kremski thinks I am answerable to the Bar.
It seems that the Bar is upset with me because I invaded its turf. Apparently I had the temerity to enter a court of law as layman and speak for myself instead of hiring one of the members of the lawyers’ guild to do so. Hence, Ms. Kremski’s demand that I explain myself to the Bar.
Ms. Kremski apparently is serious about this. She took the trouble to tell me that she can make trouble for me because the Supreme Court of Michigan has gone through the trouble to hire the Michigan State Bar as its enforcer. As such the Bar makes sure that no non-lawyers out there get the idea that the practice of law belongs to anyone but members of the lawyers’ guild. Now it would seem to a dispassionate soul that our government created a colossal conflict of interest when it let the Michigan State Bar determine what shall be prosecuted as the unauthorized practice of law. After all, as the lawyers’ guild, the Bar has a distinct incentive to define that in terms most favorable to its members. And so it does.
The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution guarantees that lawyers’ guild cannot stop a layman from having direct access to the courts to plead his own case. Self-representation in a court of law is a right, but that hasn’t stop the Bar from chewing away at the margins of that right. In my case, the Bar has objected to the manufacturing company my family owns representing itself in a lawsuit. The Bar claims that corporations do not have the right of self-representation.
Unfortunately for the Bar, Michigan state law explicitly states that a corporation does the right to self-representation in a court of law. Furthermore, the Michigan Court Rules don’t forbid corporate self-representation either. It seems that the only basis the Bar has for opposing corporate self-representation is a sixty-year-old ruling of the Michigan Supreme Court in which the court waded into a turf battle between the Detroit Bar Association and a group of trust associations over whether non-lawyer trust employees could continue their traditional practice of representing their trustees in probate court. The Supreme Court said no.
How this became the basis for forbidding the owner of small company from representing his company in court is a little baffling. (See the legal brief exposing the faultiness of this precedent by clicking here.) What is not baffling is the self-interest of the lawyers’ guild to rely upon whatever is handy to make the case for expanding its domain.
As might be expected, I told Ms. Kremski not too delicately to go to hell. We’ll keep you posted if the Bar responds.