VIRGINIA UPL OPINION 165


Land Surveyor Representing Potential Land Purchaser Before City Planning Commission.

This is in response to your letters of December 22, 1992 and January 5, 1993 requesting an Unauthorized Practice of Law advisory opinion dealing with a land surveyor representing before a city Planning Commission a potential purchaser of land.

You have indicated that the surveyor submitted, on behalf of the potential purchaser, a petition to change zoning classification of the land. You also indicate that the surveyor communicated with adjacent landowners, met with them to discuss the plan, made changes to the plan and certain proffers based upon those discussions, submitted those proffers to the Planning Commission, and served as principal spokesman for the potential purchaser at the Planning Commission hearing.

You have asked the Committee to opine as to whether the enumerated activities constitute the unauthorized practice of law.

The Committee considered your inquiry at its January 7, 1993 and February 11, 1993 meetings and has directed me to transmit its conclusions to you.

The practice of law, as defined in Virginia, involves a non-lawyer’s engaging in any one of three activities:

1) Advising another, not one’s regular employer, for direct or indirect compensation, in any matter involving the application of legal principles to facts or purposes or desires;

2) Preparing for another, with or without compensation, legal instruments of any character; or

3) Representing the interest of another before any tribunal, with or without compensation.

Part Six: Section I: Rules of the Virginia Supreme Court.

In addition, Unauthorized Practice Consideration 1-1, in pertinent part, defines the term “tribunal??? to include any body which determines the rights and obligations of parties to proceedings before it, as opposed to promulgating rules and regulations of general applicability.

The Committee is of the opinion that the Planning Commission does not act as a tribunal since its goal in this instance is to make a recommendation on a rezoning application which is ultimately a legislative rather than an adjudicative function.

Thus, the Committee is of the opinion that the specific activities you have enumerated, including the land surveyor presenting facts, figures, and factual conclusions to the Planning Commission on behalf of the potential purchaser and further negotiating the manner in which the zoning ordinance may be amended do not constitute the practice of law and thus may be carried out by a non-lawyer. Conversely, activities conducted on behalf of the potential purchaser before a body which does constitute a tribunal by virtue of its role in adjudicating disputes, such as the Board of Zoning Appeals, would constitute the unauthorized practice of law.

Finally, the Committee cautions that activities such as interpretations of applicable laws and regulations, legal analysis, and assurances based upon those interpretations and analyses might constitute the provision of legal advice to another and, when provided for compensation, would therefore constitute the unauthorized practice of law.

Committee Opinion
February 22, 1993
Updated: Aug 28, 2006