The Explainer: Permissibility of Employees Representing the Company in Magistrate’s Court

by Christian Stegmaier

On occasion, we’re asked whether an employee may represent his/her company in actions pending before the Magistrate’s Courts in South Carolina. Our courts have answered that question in the affirmative.

In State v. Wells, 191 S.C. 468, 5 S.E.2d 181 (1939), the Supreme Court held a lay person could not represent a corporation. However, in In re Unauthorized Practice of Law, 309 S.C. 304, 422 S.E.2d 123 (1992), the Court modified Wells “to allow a business to be represented by a non-lawyer officer, agent or employee, including attorneys licensed in other jurisdictions and those possessing Limited Certificates of Admission pursuant to Rule 405, SCACR, in civil magistrate’s court proceedings.” Id. at 306, 422 S.E.2d at 124 (quoted with approbation by Renaissance Enterprises, Inc. v. Summit Teleservices, Inc., 334 S.C. 649, 651, 515 S.E.2d 257, 258 (1999).

“Such representation may be compensated and shall be undertaken at the business’s option ….” Id. However, “the business assumes the risk of any problems incurred as the result of such representation.” Id. Further, “[t]he magistrate shall require a written authorization from the entity’s president, chairperson, general partner, owner or chief executive officer, or in the case of a person possessing a Limited Certificate, a copy of that Certificate, before permitting such representation.” Id.

Companies need to carefully consider whether to “go it alone” in Magistrate’s Court. Sometimes, the matter is straightforward or the stakes are not high; however, in other circumstances – where there is substantial money involved or a complicated legal issue – the safe bet is to retain counsel. Keep in mind that the rules of procedure and evidence apply to the company, regardless if it is representing itself without counsel. An unknowning lay person could get jammed up to the company’s detriment on the technical application of the rules.
FYI – the jurisdictional maximum for recovery in civil cases in South Carolina is $7,500.

The preceding does not constitute either legal advice or the establishment of an attorney-client relationship. Refer questions about this matter to counsel for further explanation.
About Christian Stegmaier
Senior Shareholder

Christian Stegmaier is a shareholder and chair of the Retail & Hospitality Practice Group at Collins & Lacy in Columbia. He is also active in the firm’s professional liability and appellate practices. Stegmaier welcomes your questions at (803) 255-0454 or