Can Attorneys Practice Law Outside Of Their Jurisdiction Due to Covid-19?

Posted by Scott Edwards | May 28, 2021 | 0 Comments

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Many attorneys have wondered if they could leave their jurisdiction while working remotely. 

I'm a licensed attorney in Washington and Oregon. Can I appear in a Washington matter from Oregon? Can I appear in an Oregon matter while in Washington?

Yes!

Times are different. COVID has affected the way we interact with friends and family members, the way we use our vacation days, and the way we do business. Many attorneys are working remotely.

What working remotely means for some is different than what it means for others. But what does it mean for those working on their clients' cases remotely from Hawaii, or from Mexico, or Bangladesh?

The American Bar Association (ABA) took this COVID-related issue by the horns and gave us an answer:

With the new ability to work on cases literally anywhere in the world, some attorneys wondered whether they were running afoul of the rules governing the practice of law.

Lawyers are generally prohibited from engaging in the unauthorized practice of law: “[a] lawyer shall not practice law in a jurisdiction in violation of the regulation of the legal profession in that jurisdiction” unless authorized by the jurisdiction's rules or laws.

But what happens if I am appearing in Clark County Superior Court or Multnomah District Court from my vacation home in San Diego (which I don't have, by the way, that's just maybe a life goal of mine). Am I practicing law in California by doing so? Can I be said to be practicing law in Washington or Oregon all the way from sunny Southern California?

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The ABA appointed a committee to answer this question and in Ethics Opinion 495 the committee confirmed that “Lawyers may ethically engage in practicing law as authorized by their licensing jurisdiction(s) while being physically present in a jurisdiction in which they are not admitted under specific circumstances enumerated in this opinion.”

What does that mean in common English? It means, attorneys can work remotely from anywhere on cases in a state in which they are licensed, if they follow certain rules. Under those rules, the lawyer must not:

  • Advertise to the public an address in the jurisdiction;
  • Give an address on letterhead, business cards, or websites that indicate the lawyer is present in the jurisdiction; and
  • Offer or provide legal services to clients located in the local jurisdiction, unless authorized by the state's temporary practice rules.

Stated simply, as long as an attorney is not advertising, counseling, or engaging in the practice of law where he or she is physically present, the attorney can practice law from anywhere so long as the work he or she is doing is in a jurisdiction where licensed.

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We've posted before about our efforts as a firm to push the technological envelope here at Schauermann Thayer. We pride ourselves on being on the cutting edge of technology and incorporating that technology into our practices. When much of the world was gearing up in preparation for COVID last year, we were ready to go. We already had the technology and equipment needed to work remotely—almost universally across all attorneys and staff.

We will continue to be at the forefront of remote work (and are grateful to know we're doing so within the bounds of the law) but also look forward to the time when we can be back in our offices, face-to-face with each other and with those whom we have the privilege to serve.

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About the Author

Scott Edwards

Scott Edwards is a partner at Schauermann Thayer Jacobs Staples & Edwards law firm. Scott is licensed in both Oregon and Washington, and has been practicing law since 2008. Though Scott started his career working for insurance companies, he now focuses his practice on personal injury, auto accident, biking accident, and insurance cases. In his free time, Scott enjoys spending time pedaling around the streets of Vancouver, Washington and Portland, Oregon on his bicycle.

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