Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Federalization of the practice of law?

The ABA Journal for January 2007 had a number of items with what struck me as a recurring theme:

In the letters section, a woman wrote: "I urge those responsible for state bar admission rules to consider amending them to support military spouses attempting to sustain legal careers. Rules should allow spouses of active-duty military members who meet the character and fitness requirements to waive in without sitting for a bar examination . . . ." Of course, the rights of veterans and their families are the subjects of considerable federal legislation, including USERRA.

An article addressed the lawsuit filed by a New York-licensed lawyer who lives in Florida, and wants to provide legal advice on New York law matters from a Florida office without obtaining a Florida license. The article says in part, "some experts wonder if someday [the New York lawyer's] approach may become acceptable, particularly if the issue continues to come under scrutiny from the federal courts," and quotes one fellow as saying, "We could have the federalization of the regulation of lawyers," and cites a Third Circuit case where the appeals court ruled that federal law preempted Pennsylvania law with respect to whether a lawyer admitted to practice in federal court but not in state court could have an office in Pennsylvania. The Court is cited as holding that "Where federal law authorizes an agent to practice before a federal tribunal, the federal law pre-empts a state's licensing requirements to the extent those requirements hinder or obstruct the goals of federal law."

An article about the changes to the Bankruptcy Code discussed the statutory issue of whether Congress intended for attorneys to be considered "debt relief agencies" under 2005 amendments to the Code.

Finally, an article begins with reference to the "pervasive role that administrative hearings play in sorting out disputes arising under federal law."

There are many lawyers who never go to federal court, and some of them send work to those of us who do. The differences between state and federal practice have arguably widened since I became a lawyer, particularly as the federal court practice has changed more rapidly in response to modern technology. Will there someday become separate federal bars, exempt from some state practice rules, somewhat like patent practice and tax practice? It wouldn't surprise me.

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