Administrative Agency; Non-Lawyer Appearances On Behalf of Others Before Local Board of Equalization.

This is in response to your letter of October 21, 1991, requesting an Unauthorized Practice of Law advisory opinion dealing with a non-lawyer’s appearance before a local Real Estate Board of Equalization, representing another citizen in a dispute over his assessed taxes.

The Committee considered your inquiry at its December 18, 1991 and February 19, 1992 meetings and has directed me to transmit its conclusions to you.

The appropriate and controlling Virginia Unauthorized Practice Rules are UPR 9-102 which precludes a non-lawyer from furnishing to another, for compensation, advice or service requiring the non-lawyer’s use of legal knowledge or skill in the application of any law, federal, state or local, or administrative regulation or ruling applicable thereto, except either (1) as an employee to his regular employer or (2) as permitted by the rules of the agency and reasonably within the scope of the non-lawyer’s practice authorized by such agency; and UPR 1-101(A) which precludes a non-lawyer from representing the interest of another before a tribunal, otherwise than in the presentation of facts, figures or factual conclusions, as distinguished from legal conclusions. Further guidance is available in Unauthorized Practice Consideration 1-1 which defines the term “tribunal??? as:

. . . the courts and judicial officers of Virginia or of the United States of America, the State Corporation Commission of Virginia and its various divisions, the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission, and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, or any agency, authority, board, or commission when it determines the rights and obligations of parties to proceedings before it, as opposed to promulgating rules and regulations of general applicability.

The Committee is cognizant that a local Board of Equalization is appointed either by a county’s board of supervisors or other governing body, or by the jurisdiction’s circuit court, depending upon the form of government utilized within the locality. Va. Code Ann. §§58.1-3370 and 58.1-3371. It is the Committee’s understanding that, in dealing with local tax assessments for real property, the Board of Equalization is charged primarily with “equalizing...the several items of the assessment made by the land assessors??? and with the “especial duty of increasing as well as decreasing assessments, if...the same be necessary to equalize and accomplish the end that the burden of taxation shall rest equally upon all citizens of such county or city.??? Va. Code Ann. §58.1-3379. City of Lynchburg v. Taylor, 156 Va. 53 (1931). Furthermore, §58.1-3380 permits any taxpayer to apply to the board for equalization of his assessment and any county or city to apply to the board to equalize the assessment of any taxpayer, while §58.1-3386 gives the board power to summon taxpayers, their agents, or any person, to furnish information, to answer questions under oath, and to produce their books of account or other records regarding the valuation of real estate. (Emphasis added.)

Based upon the applicable statutes and case law, therefore, the Committee is of the opinion that a local board of equalization does not constitute a tribunal as anticipated by UPR 1-101 and UPC 1-1 since the boardís duty is to assure the equitable operation of local government taxation rather than to assure the rights of any particular taxpayer or real property owner. Instead, the Committee believes that a local board of equalization constitutes an administrative agency as envisioned by UPR 9-102 in that its sole function is to factually determine whether the local assessor has correctly valued the property in the locality. As such, the Committee is of the opinion that appearances before such an agency do not constitute the practice of law.

Committee Opinion
March 12, 1992


Updated: Aug 28, 2006