Crossing the Line

· 316 words · about 2 minutes

Off-the-cuff legal advice presents unique issues in multi-jurisdictional practice. Counsel who engage with friends and family members in different parts of the country over legal matters must be mindful of the forum jurisdiction's laws concerning the unauthorized practice of law. Advice provided to a person living in another state could trigger the application of that specific state’s law and the results might be adverse.

While in litigation multi-jurisdictional issues appear easily solved with a pro hac vice motion, the lines are impossibly vague in matters where formal litigation is not initiated. Take, for example, In re Charges of Unprofessional Conduct where an attorney learned the hard way that no good deed goes unpunished. The Colorado counselor tried to help his parents resolve a dispute in Minnesota via email. The Colorado attorney never visited the state personally; all communications were conducted electronically. But Minnesota's Supreme Court deemed it an act of unauthorized practice and sanctioned the Colorado attorney.

In Creative's streaming course Counsel Over Cocktails, attorney Linda Fang highlights how answering questions from distant relatives can potentially subject counsel to discipline for the unauthorized practice of law. Learning from In re Charges of Unprofessional Conduct, Ms. Fang discusses how she balances questions from counselors and friends about legal issues arising in different jurisdictions.

Attorneys, and in-house counsel in particular, should Model Rule 5.5 and their state's rules on the unauthorized practice of law, which vary by jurisdiction. And while you're at it, why not dive a little deeper and watch Counsel over Cocktails, a one-hour streaming course that analyzes the ethical pitfalls of offering "informal" legal advice in social situations. Counsel over Cocktails features Professor Hugh Spitzer of University of Washington's School of Law, as well as advice from Washington State Supreme Court Justice Steven C. González, and practicing attorneys. The rules and issues analyzed include:

  • Accidental Clients
  • Formation of Attorney-Client Relationship
  • Conflicts Checks
  • Imputed Conflicts
  • Ghostwriting - ethical considerations
  • And more