When it comes to fighting it out in court, Abraham Lincoln observed that “he who represents himself has a fool for a client.” This maxim is especially true for companies in Georgia. Whether it’s a good idea to do so (it’s not), individuals have a constitutional right to represent themselves in Georgia courts.This self-representation is often referred to via the Latin phrase pro se which means “for one’s self” or “on one’s own behalf.” But the right of self-representation is not afforded to business entities such as corporations and limited liability companies.
Companies must be represented by a licensed attorney in Georgia courts. The rationale for this rule is that companies that avail themselves of the benefits of incorporation (including alternative tax treatment, protection from personal liability and opportunities for fractional ownership) must also accept the commensurate burdens. Among these burdens is the requirement that the company hire a lawyer to sue or defend in court.
Companies that attempt to skirt this rule often regret it. A filing submitted to a Georgia court on behalf of a company that is not signed by a licensed attorney is generally stricken from the record. This can result in a judgment being entered against the company long before it has the opportunity to present its case at trial. An individual who attempts to represent a company in a Georgia court without a law license commits a crime: the unauthorized practice of law, which is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail.
Like most rules, there is an exception. A non-lawyer may appear in Magistrate Court on behalf of a company. Magistrate Court is a court of limited jurisdiction, which only hears cases involving petty crimes and civil matters with no more than $15,000 in dispute.
Any business worth building is worth protecting. If your business finds itself in court, hire a lawyer to ensure that its interests are protected.