Lawyers are licensed to practice law in specific jurisdictions, typically in a particular state or territory. However, the practice of law has become increasingly national in scope, and lawyers frequently represent clients who reside in states where they are not licensed. This raises the question of whether lawyers can practice law in any state.
To practice law in a particular state, lawyers must be licensed in that state. Each state has its own licensing procedures and requirements, including passing that state’s bar exam. Lawyers must meet the licensing requirements in each state where they practice law. They cannot simply transfer a law license from one state to practice in another.
Pro hac vice admission
Lawyers can practice law in states where they are not licensed through a process called pro hac vice admission. This allows an out-of-state lawyer to practice in a local court for a specific case. However, the lawyer must associate with a local lawyer who is licensed in the state. Pro hac vice is granted on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of the court.
Opening an office
Lawyers generally cannot open an office or establish a systematic and continuous presence in a state where they are not licensed. Doing so would constitute the unauthorized practice of law. Some states do allow lawyers from neighboring states to practice in border areas or allow in-house counsel to practice for their company’s business. But as a general rule, lawyers cannot open an office in a state where they are not licensed.
Some states have adopted rules permitting lawyers from other states to practice law on a limited basis, known as multijurisdictional practice. These rules allow out-of-state lawyers to practice in the state, typically for a limited time (such as 30-180 days) and for a limited purpose (such as a single client matter or transaction). To engage in multijurisdictional practice, lawyers must register with the state bar, pay a fee, and certify their good standing in all jurisdictions where they are licensed. However, multijurisdictional practice is still not permitted in most states.
While lawyers can occasionally practice law in states where they are not licensed, either through pro hac vice admission or under limited circumstances allowed in some states, they generally cannot establish an unfettered legal practice in a state where they are not licensed. Lawyers must meet the licensing requirements in each state in which they intend to practice.