Non-Lawyer Who Prepared Estate Planning Documents Engaged in the Unauthorized Practice of Law

The Supreme Court of Ohio holds that a woman not admitted to the practice of law who held herself out as an attorney to two individuals, and prepared estate planning documents for one of them, engaged in the unauthorized practice of law and is subject to a $5,000 penalty for each act. Disciplinary Counsel v. Schwab (Ohio, No. 2020-0987, Feb. 4, 2021).

In January 2018, Erica L. Schwab told her fiancé, James J. Gudaitis, that she was an attorney and offered to assist him in legal matters and serve as the attorney for his church. She then prepared an agreement on his behalf and identified herself as his legal counsel on the document. In March 2018, Ms. Schwab met Mr. Gudaitis’ stepfather, Ray E. Baker, told him that she was a lawyer, and agreed to prepare various estate planning documents on his behalf. She drew up the documents, which again identified her as an attorney.

In April 2019, Ms. Schwab was charged with engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. In March 2020, as Ms. Schwab failed to answer the complaint or respond to the subsequent motion for default, a three-member panel of the Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law found that Ms. Schwab was in default and that it had been proven by a preponderance of the evidence that she had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. The panel recommended that she be enjoined from engaging in additional acts of the unauthorized practice of law and be fined $5,000 for each act that she committed. The board adopted the panel’s finding and recommendations.

The Ohio Supreme Court upholds the board’s finding that Ms. Schwab engaged in the unauthorized practice of law as well as its imposition of the fine totaling $10,000. The court finds that not only did Ms. Schwab ignore the complaint, falsely hold herself out as an attorney, and prepare legal documents for two individuals, but she also falsely represented herself as an attorney on two forms of social media and falsely claimed that she was representing Mr. Baker’s family in an attempt to obtain his wife’s insurance policy.

For the full text of this decision, go to: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2021/2021-Ohio-283.pdf

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