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ABA rules for multijurisdictional practice

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In simpler times, lawyers practiced law in the jurisdiction in which they were admitted. Their clients were members of their community, and their court appearances were made in the local courthouse. No longer.

Currently, many attorneys travel across state lines on a regular basis to meet with clients and handle cases. Some lawyers take multiple state bar exams to enhance their marketability to keep up with the trend of interstate law practice.

In all cases, however, lawyers must be familiar with and abide by the applicable ethical rules governing out-of-state practice of law.

California Rules of Professional Conduct

Even when practicing out-of-state, California attorneys are bound by California Rule of Professional Conduct 1-100. Rule 1-100(D)(1) states the geographic scope of the California rules as applied to California lawyers: "these rules shall govern the activities of members in and outside this state, except as members lawfully practicing outside this state may be specifically required by a jurisdiction in which they are practicing to follow rules of professional conduct different from these rules."

Such attorneys, therefore, should be familiar with the ethical rules in their particular destination state, as well as the applicable ABA Model Rules on point.

ABA rules governing multijurisdictional law practice

ABA Model Rule 5.5 covers unauthorized practice of law and multijurisdictional law practice. It states the general rule that attorneys may not practice law in any jurisdiction in violation of that jurisdiction's regulations, or assist another in so doing. Rule 5.5(b) states that a lawyer who is not admitted to practice law in a particular jurisdiction shall not "establish an office or other systematic and continuous presence in this jurisdiction for the practice of law; or hold out to the public or otherwise represent that the lawyer is admitted to practice law in this jurisdiction."

Even when there is no continuous presence or representation made about a lawyer being admitted to practice in a certain jurisdiction, a growing number of cases involve the need for a lawyer to practice law on a temporary basis in another state.

Rule 5.5(c)(1) states that one of the circumstances under which a lawyer may provide legal services on a temporary basis in another jurisdiction is when they are "undertaken in association with a lawyer who is admitted to practice in this jurisdiction and who actively participates in the matter."

Rule 5.5(c)(2) states that providing legal services on a temporary basis in another jurisdiction is also permissible when they "are in or reasonably related to a pending or potential proceeding before a tribunal in this or another jurisdiction, if the lawyer, or a person the lawyer is assisting, is authorized by law or order to appear in such proceeding or reasonably expects to be so authorized; or (c)(3) are in or reasonably related to a pending or potential arbitration, mediation, or other alternative dispute resolution proceeding in this or another jurisdiction, if the services arise out of or are reasonably related to the lawyer's practice in a jurisdiction in which the lawyer is admitted to practice and are not services for which the forum requires pro hac vice admission;" or (c)(4) if they "arise out of or are reasonably related to the lawyer's practice in a jurisdiction in which the lawyer is admitted to practice."

National law practice

Some attorneys conduct out-of-state business for their local employer or company's satellite office. Rule 5.5 addresses this situation. Rule 5.5(d) permits a lawyer to provide legal services in another jurisdiction if they "are provided to the lawyer's employer or its organizational affiliates and are not services for which the forum requires pro hac vice admission," or are authorized by federal law or other law in the jurisdiction.

Junior lawyers in law firms that accept out-of-state assignments may also want to be familiar with ABA Rule 5.2, Responsibilities of a Subordinate Lawyer. This rule states that a lawyer is bound by the rules even if they acted upon the direction of another. Section (b) of Rule 5.2, however, states that "a subordinate lawyer does not violate the Rules of Professional Conduct if that lawyer acts in accordance with a supervisory lawyer's reasonable resolution of an arguable question of professional duty."


Patrick is a deputy district attorney in the Special Operations Division of the San Diego District Attorney's Office. She can be contacted at wendy.patrick@sddt.com. The information in this column is intended to be informational only and does not constitute legal advice. Please shepardize all case law before using.

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