Opinion 2004-6

(August 2004)

 

The inquirer is an immigration attorney practicing in an LLP with one other attorney who is admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar.  The firm's office is located in Pennsylvania. The inquirer practices only federal administrative law exclusively before the immigration courts in Philadelphia. He does not give advice or handle any matters involving Pennsylvania law nor does he hold himself out as a member of the Pennsylvania Bar.

 

The inquirer was advised when he began practicing in Pennsylvania two years ago that he was permitted to practice before the immigration courts in Pennsylvania. He has, however, recently become aware that a multi-jurisdictional practice amendment has been made to the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct, ("the Rules")  and while he believes, since federal immigration law is the sole nature of his practice, that under the new Rule it is permissible for him to practice federal law within Pennsylvania, he nevertheless has several questions.

 

First the inquirer asks whether his practice circumstances can, in any way, be construed as a violation of the amended rule.  Second, could he continue to practice federal immigration law if the partnership were to be dissolved, or if his partner were to die? Finally, the inquirer asks if he could practice immigration law as an associate in Pennsylvania if the amended rule prohibits him from "maintaining an office" in the state.

 

Recently Rule 5.5 was amended to specifically allow for the multi-jurisdictional practice of law (MJP).  In part, the Rule states that:

 

(b)  A lawyer who is not admitted to practice in this jurisdiction shall not:

(1)  except as authorized by these Rules or other law, establish an office or other systematic and continuous presence in this jurisdiction for the practice of law; --

(c)  A lawyer admitted in another United States jurisdiction or in a foreign jurisdiction, and not disbarred or suspended from practice in any jurisdiction, may provide legal services on a temporary basis in this jurisdiction that: 
(1)  are undertaken in association with a lawyer who is admitted to practice in this jurisdiction and who actively participates in the matter--;
(d)  A lawyer admitted in another United States jurisdiction or a foreign jurisdiction, and not disbarred or suspended from practice in any jurisdiction, may provide legal services in this jurisdiction that:...
(2)  are services that the lawyer is authorized to provide by federal law or other law of this jurisdiction.

 

As the inquirer is in partnership with a Pennsylvania-admitted attorney, his present practice of immigration law within his Pennsylvania office would be authorized by Rule 5.5(c)(1), provided his partner actively participates in the matter.  However, even if his partner does not, Rule 5.5(d)(2) makes it clear that the inquirer is authorized to provide his immigration services by virtue of his admission to the Immigration Court.

 

Although it is clear that the inquirer can represent clients in immigration cases in Pennsylvania without being admitted here, what is not addressed clearly in the Rules themselves is the pivotal issue of the inquirer's having a law office within Pennsylvania even though he is not admitted here.

Although the Comments to the Rules are not officially adopted by the Supreme Court they are included to further clarify and explain the Rules themselves.  Comment 15 to Rule 5.5 is directly on point to this inquiry and provides that:

 

15. Paragraph (d) identifies two circumstances in which a lawyer who is admitted to practice in another jurisdiction, and is not disbarred or suspended from practice in any jurisdiction, may establish an office or other systematic and continuous presence in this jurisdiction for the practice of law as well as provide legal services on a temporary basis. Except as provided in paragraphs (d)(1) and (d)(2), a lawyer who is admitted to practice law in another jurisdiction and who establishes an office or other systematic or continuous presence in this jurisdiction must become admitted to practice law generally in this jurisdiction.

 

Since the inquirer's situation clearly fits within 5.5d(2) it becomes clear that he is not required to be admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in order to maintain an office here provided he limits his practice to immigration work. This is true whether or not he is in a partnership with a Pennsylvania admitted attorney.  The answer to the second question renders the third question moot. 

 

The Committee does remind the inquirer that since he is not admitted to practice generally in Pennsylvania and is only able to practice in immigration matters that any advertisements, stationary, cards, etc. must so note in accordance with Rules of Professional Conduct 7.1a and 7.5a.

 

 

   

The Philadelphia Bar Association's Professional Guidance Committee provides, upon request, advice for lawyers facing or anticipating facing ethical dilemmas. Advice is based on the consideration of the facts of the particular inquirer's situation and the Rules of Professional Conduct as promulgated by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The Committee's opinions are advisory only and are based upon the facts set forth. The opinions are not binding upon the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania or any other Court. They carry only such weight as an appropriate reviewing authority may choose to give it.