Debt Relief Industry What's Your Opinion

What’s Your Opinion? Is Debt Settlement the Unauthorized Practice of Law?

I was just reading a recent case filed against Freedom Debt Relief, Freedom Financial Network, Global Client Solutions, and Brad Allen. The case alleges that the defendants violated the debt relief provisions of the bankruptcy code, violated California law, engaged in the unauthorized practice of law and violated the California consumer fraud act. You can read the full complaint here.

The reason this caught my eye is twice this week I’ve heard or read the argument that debt settlement services are activities that only a lawyer can deliver.

The first time was in the arguments presented by an attorney from Greenspoon Marder, Richard Epstein, while representing Consumer Law Group. In the courtroom this week his position in the State of North Carolina vs. Consumer law Group was debt settlement was debt adjusting and by it’s very nature was the practice of law and something lawyers do on a regular basis. – Source

So What’s Your Opinion is a series that invites readers to post their thoughts, opinions, comments, and observations about a particular situation or issue. You can weigh in and be heard by posting your feedback in the comments section below.

Now comes this case, filed just days ago, that states:

  • The actions and advice of Defendants constituted the providing of advice, counsel and direction to Plaintiffs, knowingly engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.
  • Defendants’ statements and actions created or reinforced the impression that Defendants were acting in Plaintiffs’ best interests, and knew what they were talking about.
  • Defendants derived a benefit from engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.
  • Defendant caused injury to Plaintiff by engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.

So what is your opinion. Can debt settlement only be provided by a lawyer and if debt settlement services are delivered by a non-lawyer, is it the unauthorized practice of law?


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About the author

Steve Rhode

Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.

13 Comments

  • Well I guess the Ohio State Bar government branch is reviewing debt settlement businesses a little differently these days after receiving the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision concerning Mr. Mario W. Watkins/Watkins Global Network, LLC case.

    It really seems that after someone positioned themselves in state government then decides to exceed their authority like seeking to destroy a small business tax consultant, may be feeling uneasy or may now feel insecure. I listened to his testimony on the Ohio Supreme Court News Web Channel and saw first hand how they targeted what was said, when it was said and so on. To have this man undergo so much mental and financial stress and to drag this case on for years and years was nothing other but a power grab. The Ohio State Bar Association should have been sanction for violating the rules of procedure and for abusing the judicial process in this case.

    After reading the opinion of the court, it was easy to see that this whole case was basically frivolous and without merits. Even the matter involving the church Mr. Watkins only acted as an messenger but it was decided that he used legal tactics which again were never proven at all. Talk about injustice in the State of Ohio. Poor guy, hope he can pick up the broken pieces that was placed upon him. May be its time for Ohio to come to terms with SB 112 and HB 131. Doesn’t this guy have family members or some relations in the United States Supreme Court’s Division? I read some where he his connected somehow. May be through a Senator or Congressperson but I heard or read he was. I’m sure he more likely shared his take on this issue.

  • Okay, so as the Watkins Global Network case makes it way to the Ohio Senate, I would guess it is clear no that Watkins was right when he stated that debt settlement was everyone’s constitutional right. I have been following this case from the start and it is very sick to think that this body of government ‘Ohio State Bar Association’ can just walk in and uproot someone’s life just because they couldn’t understand how the laws should be applied.

    And yes, they omitted that he cooperated throughout this entire rat chase. I do believe the woman who I think was Betty Montgomery, the former Attorney General even said many times over in her memos that the Ohio State Bar was overstepping and over reaching and even misapplying the rules as well as the facts. She even testified before the Ohio Finance Insurance Committee. I saw it on the Ohio News Channel. The true harm in all of this, is that the state of Ohio allowed this body of branch government become so forceful and attempted in destroying a small business consultant who was damage so emotionally, financially, and medically it almost cost him his business and health according to his own statements. It’ a crying shame to think that the state of Ohio would allow one of their own taxpayers undergo such treatment. I guess if the right attorney got his or her teeth into it then there may have been some issues with the antitrust laws as well. After seeing how the Ohio Supreme Court reviewed this matter and made their final decision I guess we can all be thankful for that. But again, at what price?

    VERY DISAPPOINTING AND SICK AS TO WHAT THEY PUT THIS GUY THROUGH!!!!!

  • VERY VERY CONCERNING:

    I have been keeping up with that Ohio case concerning that guy named Watkins. The company being Watkins Global Network, LLC. This guy has been working with the tax authorities for years and years.

    In order to better understand this, the guy basically acted as a messenger for a church on behalf of one of his clients. The Ohio State Bar was going after anyone that basically crossed the line because they misunderstood the given laws in relation to formal cases and took on the attitude that if anyone was caught up acting as a messenger for someone else then they would immediately be opened up for an inquiry and then outright be sued.

    The 31 cases they said he was guilty of turned out somewhat different according to The Ohio Supreme Court who oversees the Bar Association. I guess this guy must have really suffered due to the length of the investigation and all the legal fees that were involved. I listened to him defending himself before the highest court in Ohio. You can see it on The Ohio Channel. The court said that in their Slip-Opinion which didn’t come until seven months later that there wasn’t enough evidence relating to 30 of the cases that the Ohio Bar brought against him but in order to put something on the record they insisted that he be found guilty of one case so as to bring closure.

    So the way it appears, if I help my brother out by calling his bank and relating information about his defaulted loan (my brother has a speech disability and is unable to talk) and explain to their legal team that my brother would like to settle the matter once and for all then Ohio considers this the unauthorized practice of law. THAT’S INSANE! Even the Supreme Court Justices stated that he didn’t give or provide legal services. Just made a few suggestions. I think this guy was treated very very unfairly and the State of Ohio authorities that basically worked overtime for the past 8 years in destroying his personal and business life should really think about repenting. So this is what Ohio is about when it comes to debt settlement issues. Please, I think I’ll just remain in Indiana. Ohio enjoys wasting taxpayer funds.

    NOT A GOOD THING AT ALL. SHAME, SHAME, SHAME.

  • We came across this webpage and noticed something very strange. It keeps talking about debt settlement. A small business tax settlement company that’s actually been in business since 1991 with regards to its apparent name Global Services and whom we hired years ago to resolve our federal tax issues and assisted us in resolving our state and federal issues. After reviewing the other comments about this person Mr. Watkins we can tell you he is the best. A man of great faith, a man that believes in others, a man that truly speaks words of life. What we find to be so strange about all this is that this guy has been called on privately by US Senators and other World Leaders to consult on Corporate Debt Managements/Negotiation business matters. He even has books out being marketed worldwide.

    The Ohio State Bar Association in Ohio decided to targeted this guy in order to create an example for their future sideshows for citing references of the law and even stated he should be cited for 31 cases of UPL just because. Seeking to create a legal reference by means of destroying this man and his family and his tax solution company wasn’t very wise. After all, this guy has connections regarding investor ports, friends that know about antitrust law selections, and Ohio decided to drag this guy through their web of destruction. Plus, the Ohio Supreme Court ended up hearing this case that was in essence illegally filed against him just hasn’t been proven. It seems they ruled that only 1 out of the 31 cases was actually UPL but had to nail him on the one charge so the Ohio State Bar Association would be somewhat pleased.

    Now after hearing his presentation live before the court we believe everyone would have to agree that this man should have never ever been charged and treated so badly by the Ohio authorities. If the government can intervene into a life of any person with any real facts then we are all in danger. We live in MA now but if it had not been for this man Mr. Watkins of Watkins Global Network, LLC then we would still be in debt without any real means of justification with the federal government and on the hook for over 2.2 million and no longer in operation. WE APPRECIATE YOU MARIO W. WATKINS AND ALL THAT YOU STAND FOR. MAY GOD BLESS YOUR LIFE ALWAYS!

  • Yes sir, The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that debt negotiations in its blanket ruling that debt negotiating isn’t the practice of law but, decided to leave it wide open by saying it could lead to the UPL if one swims into giving legal advice, legal document submissions and the such.

    But is that truly enough to outline a path for someone involved in these activities to follow? The Slip-Opinion they gave really doesn’t make this divide very clear. I guess everyone is asking this:

    WHY HAS OHIO BEEN SO HELL BENT OVER SMALL BUSINESSES PROVIDING DEBT NEGOTIATIONS?

  • So Ohio decided to show some heart. Of course that heart came with one Ohio Business Owner, Mario W. Watkins, Owner of Watkins Global Network, LLC., almost having to basically give up everything including his Tax Solution Business that he has been working hard to build and operate for many years.

    Yes, this case has caught national headlines everywhere in reference to the Ohio Debtors Act, and the Unauthorized Practice of Law and has brought on the attention due to the Ohio State Bar Association putting any and everyone on their target hit list and destroying small Ohio businesses that does no more than negotiate dollars and cents and by stating that these companies are practicing law without a license. Talking about wasting taxpayers dollars in Ohio. That’s very clear!

    Also, after listening to this man testify before the Ohio Supreme Court (find video on the courts webpage) during oral argument he was very clear that his intentions were pure and factual. Winning over thirty charges out of thirty one, I would have to say that’s not bad for a non-attorney. Maybe he should consider getting his law license. I mean if he able to present his case in this fashion then why seek to crush and destroy him? The real question is why would the Ohio authorities allow one of their own branches of government torment a small business tax consultant and taxpayer have to suffer such as this in order to come to a decision? ONLY OHIO CAN ANSWER THAT. Or if there is an answer. More likely not!

    However, this case was different due to the facts that Mr. Watkins was running a full time tax practice. He testified on his own behalf have way through the eight year investigated process because his attorney had passed away which this guy had to pay for ongoing legal representation so he just decided to represent himself.

    The Ohio Supreme Court came to their decision on 01/23/2020 after realizing that the Relator (Ohio State Bar Association) failed to truly produce any real evidence against this guy. Out of the 31 charges outlined the Supreme Court of Ohio only found one case where he may have stepped out of bounds. But according to Justice DeWine, one of the justices with the court even said that the one case against him should not be grounds for the unauthorized practice of law. So the one case which I think involved a church loan in reference to PNC Bank he was basically only a messenger between the church and the bank but some of the Supreme Court justices felt that was enough to ask him pay $1,000.00 and not $31,000.00. After what this guy went through the Ohio authorities should have to pay this guy $100,000.00 for destroying his good business name and for all his pain and suffering that he had to endure when in fact he did nothing wrong. God help us! If the state government has that much power then the rest of us are out.

  • Wow! This is truly confusing because if I decide to contract a paint job on someone’s home and they only want to pay $3,500.00 and I tell them it would take $4,500.00 total to complete the job then we are at the early stage of a financial dispute. Once we begin negotiating and then we reach an agreement to get the job done for $4,000.00 then really did I just practiced law?

    According to this then this is considered practicing law without a license. Millions do this everyday all across America. States like Ohio claim that it is. The example the authorities used are – was there a financial dispute involved? Of course there was. Why? Because the homeowner wanted to only pay $3,500.00 and the Independent Contractor wanted $4,500.00. But after some basic negotiating they reached an agreement of $4,000.00.

    So If a person is negotiating a car, contracting services, house materials, bathroom installments, kitchen repairs, equipment leases, office leases, invoicing, creditor claims or anything else that may involve a financial dispute then according to many state authorities then what I see we are all practicing law without a license. This is total madness and if this law continues the United Supreme Court will sooner or later have to get involved and step in and provide a reality check to all these states that seek to destroy small businesses as well as people who are trying to support themselves and stay productive. This UPL put in place in many of these states like Ohio, NJ, MA, MI overload the courts dockets will only continue to smear and destroy the reputations of many and the waste of taxpayer dollars.

  • What a shame. Yes sir you are right. I knew that guy from over twenty years ago. He was very fair to us and our Import & Export business was on the line because we owed over $600,000 in back taxes and our bank account was frozen and our commercial business building had over $220,000 equity taken to pay towards our tax liabilities and the United States Department of the Treasury was hounding us and even camping out at our doors. They wanted us to come into compliance by paying out $7,200 monthly through an installment agreement which was not possible.

    The Ohio man that the Ohio Bar Association chased and sued is the same man that helped us resolve our major federal tax issues. He somehow and we still don’t know until this day how he convinced the government to reduced our liability down to $130,000 which we owed well over 500,000 with all the interest and penalties at that time. By him making a presentation to them several times he was able to somehow work out installment payment down to $2,500 which was reasonable and acceptable based on our 433 Financial Statement that he completed and was able to re-submit. Really can’t understand why the Ohio authorities would even consider destroying this man and his life when it seems all he does is workout agreements with the tax authorities. Very strange legal system happening in the state of Ohio no doubt.

  • I think it’s sick!. These State Bar Associations across the country have been given too much liberty by the State’s Supreme Court to chase after Debt Settlement Firms. Many fall into antitrust areas of the law which could lead to bigger problems later on.

    Many are very small businesses working hard and steady and freeing people up who would otherwise be stuck so deep they would never ever see light again not to mention the tax contribution these small firms have to pay out. The legal system only wants to dig their hooks in deep because they know that a non-attorney if experienced can discuss dollars and cents just as well if not better than many attorneys.

    I mean, why would any State Supreme Court allow one of it’s on State Government Branches chase after a small business owner for years pushing him or her to defend themselves and waste the State’s Taxpayers Funds just so it can trash the little guy. Really speaks loud about the legal system in general. There’s a case being followed by many where a guy basically runs a full time tax practice and he was considering adding Debt Claims Negotiations to his tax practice but decided against it and the Bar sued him just the same and basically has destroyed his life according to his own testimony. I believe it’s called Watkins Global Network located somewhere in Ohio. What a shame. Poor guy wish him well.

    • These things take time to develop but repeat the same pattern. Some form of beneficial consumer assistance is developed, scammers get involved and start selling it without regard for the truth, regulators take notice and use a large paintbrush to paint the entire niche.

      The power always rests with the niche industry, like debt settlement, to actually police themselves and stop the scammers. Over and over again the niche companies don’t do this.

  • Of course not- To answer the original question.

    However, in the event the client is sued, the settlement company needs to be very careful in terms of advice on how to handle the matter.

    Anyone can settle a client’s debts- even a lawyer (from time to time)

  • Of course not- To answer the original question.

    However, in the event the client is sued, the settlement company needs to be very careful in terms of advice on how to handle the matter.

    Anyone can settle a client’s debts- even a lawyer (from time to time)

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