While an attorney licensed to practice law in one state can potentially represent clients in another state on a temporary or limited basis, there are clear benefits to working with an attorney licensed to practice in the state where you’re filing your lawsuit.
Why Do the States License Attorneys?
Lawyers are licensed state-by-state. Every state in the U.S. regulates the practice of law within its borders and has its own set of laws, regulations, and ethical standards that govern the practice of law by lawyers within that state. These rules are typically established by the state’s highest court or by a regulatory agency responsible for overseeing law practice within the state.
The regulation of the practice of law is intended to ensure that attorneys are appropriately trained and qualified to provide legal services and that they conduct themselves in a manner that is ethical and professional. The rules and regulations governing the practice of law are typically designed to protect the public and to promote the administration of justice.
What Are Some Basic State Requirements for Practicing Law?
Attorneys who wish to practice law in a particular state must meet the requirements established by that state’s regulatory authority, which typically include passing that state’s bar exam, obtaining a law degree from an accredited law school, and meeting other ethical and professional standards. Once an attorney is licensed to practice law in a particular state, they are subject to that state’s rules and regulations governing the practice of law.
Limitations and Requirements for Out-of-State Attorneys Wanting to Practice in Washington
Suppose a lawyer licensed in another state wishes to represent clients in Washington. In that case, they must first comply with the rules and regulations set by the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) and the ethical rules established by the Washington Supreme Court.
A lawyer from another state can become fully licensed to practice in Washington by sitting for and passing the Washington State Bar exam. Alternatively, lawyers admitted to the practice of law in other states or territories of the United States or the District of Columbia can apply for admission to the Washington Bar by submitting proof of admission and current good standing in that jurisdiction, together with proof of active legal experience for the past three of five years, and good moral character.
If the attorney is not able or willing to take the bar exam or cannot apply for admission based on their experience and good standing in another jurisdiction, they are entitled to seek admission to practice in Washington on a limited basis through several processes, including:
Pro Hac Vice Admission: A Latin phrase meaning “for this occasion,” Pro hac vice is a process that allows a lawyer to be granted permission to only appear for the limited purpose of one particular lawsuit in that jurisdiction. As part of this process, the out-of-state attorney must have in-state counsel willing to work with them.
The local attorney must file a motion to have the out-of-state lawyer appear pro hac vice. It’s up to the local court to grant the out-of-state attorney limited admission to appear on their client’s behalf. There are costs and filing fees associated with the pro hac vice process. Usually, the client or attorney must pay a fee to the state’s bar where the case is filed and a court filing fee for the pro hac vice petition or motion.
Multijurisdictional Practice (MJP): If the out-of-state lawyer does not obtain admission pro hac vice, they may still be able to provide legal services in limited circumstances. This may include providing advice on federal law or working on a legal matter that has a substantial connection to the lawyer’s home state. MJP is a complex issue with varying regulations in different jurisdictions nationwide.
Many jurisdictions have strict rules governing MJP to ensure that attorneys not licensed in a particular jurisdiction follow all the applicable laws.
Limited Practice Certificates: Out-of-state lawyers who want to practice law regularly without first passing the state bar exam may be able to obtain a limited practice certificate. A limited practice certificate is a type of legal certification that allows individuals to provide specific legal services in a limited capacity, usually in a particular jurisdiction or area of law.
The specific services that can be provided under a limited practice certificate vary depending on the jurisdiction and the type of certificate. Sometimes, limited practice certificates allow individuals to provide legal advice, represent clients in court, or draft legal documents. It’s important to note that the scope of practice for someone with a limited practice certificate is significantly narrower than that of a licensed attorney. They may be subject to certain restrictions and limitations.
Does it Matter if My Attorney is Not Licensed in My State?
The unauthorized practice of law is a serious violation. It applies to attorneys who try to practice law in states where they are not legally authorized and non-attorneys acting as licensed lawyers. While an attorney licensed to practice law in one state can potentially represent clients in another state on a temporary or limited basis, there are clear benefits to working with an attorney licensed to practice in the state where you’re filing your lawsuit. These include:
Familiarity with Local Laws and Regulations: An attorney licensed to practice in your state is likely to be well-versed with the state’s statutes, case law, and the rules and regulations that apply to your case and can provide you with legal advice that is based upon the specific laws and procedures of your state.
Representation in Local Courts: A lawyer licensed to practice in your state will likely have experience with the local court and judges. This is especially important if your case must be litigated in a specific court or jurisdiction.
Compliance with State Ethical Rules: An attorney not licensed to practice in your state may not be familiar with the specific ethical rules and regulations that apply to your case in your state. This can result in conduct, legal advice, or representation that does not comply with your state’s ethical rules for lawyers, which could be damaging to your case or your interests.
In short, having a lawyer fully licensed to practice in your state helps ensure you have the best possible representation tailored to your specific case and the laws of your local jurisdiction.
Can an Attorney be Licensed to Practice in More Than One State?
It’s worth noting that some attorneys are licensed to practice law in multiple states, allowing them to represent clients in many different venues. These lawyers have met the requirements for admission to the bar in each state where they are licensed.
Matt Menzer and JohnDavid Toren are two such attorneys. After graduating from Berkeley Law in 1987, Matt was admitted to the bar in California. In 1990, Matt received his license to practice in Hawaii while serving as a Judicial Law Clerk in the United States District Court for Hawaii. He was admitted to the bar in Washington in 1992 after moving to Seattle to practice law. Matt has maintained his three law licenses over the last thirty years, and he can ably represent clients in all state and federal courts in those three states.
JohnDavid is a 2014 graduate of the University of Washington School of Law, and he was admitted to the bar in Washington in 2014, and to the bar of Hawaii in 2022. Matt and JohnDavid are also licensed to represent clients nationwide with vaccine injury claims before the Federal Court of Claims.
Menzer Law Can Help
While working at prominent litigation law firms early in his career, first in Hawaii and then in Washington, Matt saw the need for his brand of legal representation for medical malpractice and personal injury clients. A model that relies on deep legal knowledge and experience, impeccable ethical standards, and genuine care and compassion to ensure each client receives the compensation they deserve.
In 2002, Matt formed Menzer Law in Seattle to focus exclusively on this need. In 2019, based on client demand, he opened a second office on Maui to augment the firm’s long-standing work there. Today, Matt’s specialized brand of legal representation remains at the core of Menzer Law and will continue to guide our practice in the future.
You can count on Matt, JohnDavid, and Brady Douglas to protect your rights and help you achieve your deserved compensation. Contact Menzer Law at 206.970.2685 or fill out this online form, and our team will review your claim at no cost.
Disclaimer: This content is written for educational purposes and to provide general information and understanding of the law. You should not use this information as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state.