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Corporate/Business Counsel & Unauthorized Practice of Law

Sometimes as a business owner having an attorney isn’t just a mere luxury or convenience, it’s a legal requirement. More specifically, in litigation, corporations must be represented by an attorney — either in house counsel or outside counsel. The reason for this flows from Missouri Revised Statute Section 484.020.1:

No person shall engage in the practice of law or do law business, as defined in section 484.010, or both, unless he shall have been duly licensed therefor and while his license therefor is in full force and effect, nor shall any association, partnership, limited liability company or corporation, except a professional corporation organized pursuant to the provisions of chapter 356, a limited liability company organized and registered pursuant to the provisions of chapter 347, or* a limited liability partnership organized or registered pursuant to the provisions of chapter 358, engage in the practice of the law or do law business as defined in section 484.010, or both.

The law allows an individual to bear the risk that representation without an attorney may entail. Natural persons may represent themselves in situations which, if done for someone else, would constitute the practice of law.Unlike individuals, corporations are not natural persons, but are creatures of statute. Businesses operating in corporate form are entitled to certain benefits that are denied to others. In addition to benefits, however, corporations also have certain restrictions placed upon them. One such restriction in Missouri is that a corporation may not represent itself in legal matters, but must act solely through licensed attorneys.

Because a corporation cannot practice law, and can only act through the agency of natural persons, it follows that it can appear in court on its own behalf only through a licensed attorney. It cannot appear by an officer of the corporation who is not an attorney, and may not even file a petition except by an attorney, whose authority to appear is presumed.

Failure of a corporation/business can have serious consequences. For one, if a lawsuit has been filed, the petition may be dismissed by the Judge automatically because the actions taken by the non-attorney corporate representative are void and without force or effect. Secondly, any business/corporation who participates in the unauthorized practice of law may be guilty of a criminal misdemeanor pursuant to statutory section 484.020.2.

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