Legal Alert: Georgia Employers Must Use Attorney to Answer Garnishment Summons

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On September 12, 2011, the Georgia Supreme Court adopted an informal State Bar of Georgia opinion stating that any non-lawyer who answers a garnishment in Georgia is engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. Accordingly, as of September 12, all companies responding to a summons of garnishment in the state of Georgia must file their answer through a licensed Georgia attorney.

The Court's decision was not entirely unexpected. In June 2010, the Standing Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law issued Advisory Opinion No. 2010-1, in which the Committee addressed the question of whether a non-attorney employee of a garnishee can file an answer to a garnishment summons without engaging in the unlicensed practice of law. The Committee decided that employers can only answer garnishment summons through a licensed Georgia attorney. The Committee premised its decision on the fact that corporations and limited liability companies have no right to self-representation, and must therefore be represented by a licensed attorney in any legal proceeding. The Committee reasoned that because a garnishment action is like any other legal proceeding, the non-attorney employees of a business cannot lawfully answer a garnishment summons.

Although the Committee's decision caused an immediate stir in the Georgia business community, most companies were not immediately impacted. Indeed, the Committee's advisory opinion was non-binding and therefore did not have the force of law. Accordingly, most employers continued to use non-attorney employees to process and file garnishment answers.

Please see full alert below for more information.

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