Monday, February 18, 2008

Federalization of the practice of law?

Lawyers in the United States are licensed by state. There are many states currently who allow a lawyer admitted in another state to become a member of their bar. This is referred to as reciprocity. Here in the CNMI, there is no reciprocity. In order to become a licensed member of the bar and practice law, an attorney must take the CNMI bar exam. Attorneys who have practiced for at least 5 years may take a shortened version. The CNMI Supreme Court is very serious about policing the unauthorized practice of law. There was a recent case where the Supreme Court took action concerning a lawyer who was practicing without a local license, even though she was employed by the Attorney General's Office. (See MP 33).

The trend in some states seems to be leaning toward recognizing the broadening of legal practice. In Georgia, they have taken the idea of reciprocity one step further to allow "multi-jurisdictional" law practice. In essence, Georgia attorneys are allowed to do legal work elsewhere, and out-of-state lawyers get the right to set up shop in Georgia–without associating with local counsel. Currently in the CNMI, if an outsider wants to practice here, he may only do so under limited admission for one case pro hac vice, and the cost is prohibitive ($5,000.00 for a one year period). See the Rules of Admission, Rules 3 and 4. Otherwise, an outsider must associate with local CNMI counsel. There is a terrific website which lists the particulars for attorneys on what each state requires or allows regarding multi-jurisdictional practice.

I have no opinion on whether protectionist policies are good or bad for a particular state--and I note that particularly desirable states in which to retire, like Florida and Arizona, also do not allow reciprocity. But it seems as though the distinctions between the several states are breaking down as surely as the practice of law is expanding nationally and globally. I believe that the ease of electronic research and the continuing national standardization of bar testing suggest the inevitability of a national practice of law one day. Until then, keep checking the local rules.

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