Debt Firms Win Unauthorized Law Practice Challenge in Ohio

Two debt relief companies found by an Ohio legal attorney to have engaged in the unauthorized practice of law won the ruling overturned on Tuesday when the state’s highest court found insufficient evidence.

The case dates back to 2013, when the Ohio State Bar Association filed a six-count complaint with the Council on the Unauthorized Practice of Law against Nationwide Support Services Inc. and Pro-Net Financial Inc. The companies have been accused of practicing without a license when she advised Ohio debtors and negotiated related settlements.

The board found in August 2021 that Nationwide, Pro-Net and Pro-Net Chairman Andrew Bloom improperly practiced law by advising, advising and negotiating debt on behalf of six Ohio clients. Pro-Net provided debt negotiation services through Nationwide, the court heard.

The Ohio State Bar Association “has not presented any direct evidence from any of Nationwide’s customers, their creditors, or their creditors’ attorney who participated in these alleged negotiations,” the opinion by curiam of the highest court in the state.

The Ohio Supreme Court said the case rested primarily on Bloom’s testimony and the stipulations of the Pro-Net respondents. And the evidence provided did not clearly indicate that the companies had crossed the line between debt relief and the provision of legal assistance.

“In light of these significant evidentiary gaps regarding the specific actions Nationwide has taken on behalf of its clients, we cannot conclude that the relator has submitted sufficient sworn or certified evidence to support its claim for default against Nationwide. “, according to the state Supreme Court.

“Nor can we conclude that relator has proven by a preponderance of evidence that the Pro-Net defendants engaged in the unauthorized practice of law through Nationwide’s actions,” he said.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly, Melody J. Stewart and Jennifer Brunner agreed. Judge Patrick F. Fischer did not participate in the decision.

The parent is represented by Fanger & Associates LLC. The Pro-Net defendants are represented by McNeal, Schick, Archibald, & Biro Co. LPA.

The case is State Bar Assn. v. Pro-Net Fin. Inc., Ohio, No. 2016-1913, 3/15/22.

Jon J. Epps