The State Bar of Georgia has issued a public hearing notice for June 1, 2012 to determine whether a consulting forester that uses a timber sale contract without hiring a lawyer constitutes the unlicensed practice of law. A lawyer has filed a complaint on the issue, therefore the State Bar is required to hold a hearing. The notice describes the situation as follows:
A consulting forester represents a landowner in the sale of his timber. The consulting forester, in the past, had an attorney draft a timber contract for the sale of timber by a different landowner. The consulting forester wants to use the same timber contract for closing of the present timber sale, and not have an attorney involved in the sale and closing of the timber sale. He proposes to merely change name of landowner, name of timber company purchaser, sales price, timber being purchased and land description where the timber is located. All of this to be done so that the sale of timber can be accomplished without timber company employing an attorney to close the timber sale. Is the consulting forester engaging in the unauthorized practice of law?
Forestry agencies and organization across the state are expected to weigh in on the issue at the hearing. The Georgia Forestry Association (GFA) has already submitted comments on the issue.
On May 1, GFA submitted comments to the State Bar of Georgia’s Standing Committee. The Association’s position that "a consulting forester, as an agent of the landowner, does not violate the statutory provisions related to the unlicensed practice of law in the State of Georgia by providing the landowner client with a form contract for the sale of timber”. GFA noted in its comments that timber sales contracts are largely standardized across the industry and that form contracts are readily available to timberland owners without the use of an attorney.
GFA also stated, if the Committee rules against the use of standardized contracts by consulting foresters, the effect “would not result in greater protection of the consumer, but rather a limitation of the market choices available to the consumer and an increase in the transactions costs incurred by the consumer”.
Foresters in other southeastern states are watching the issue closely. The decision from the State Bar of Georgia could create a ripple effect in other states.
Stay tuned to ForestGeek.com for more information as it becomes available.