Bar Counsel Notes: Unauthorized Practice of Law

Attorney has a potential client who formerly lived and worked in North Carolina. Client has returned to Maine but is scheduled (in December 2012) to have an unemployment hearing back in North Carolina. That hearing can occur telephonically and client has requested Attorney to represent client. Attorney is only licensed in Maine but understands from client's report that no lawyer is required to serve as the advocate in the North Carolina hearing. Under the multi-jurisdictional practice rules, can Attorney help this client?

No, because Attorney is unlicensed to practice law in North Carolina and reportedly knows nothing about its employment laws. Both as a protection for this prospective client and for the Attorney, he should not advise her on North Carolina law. If he does, he could potentially misinterpret those laws or otherwise improperly advise this client. That could harm client's pursuit of unemployment benefits as well as possibly provide a malpractice risk for the Attorney. While MRPC 5.5 now more completely addresses an attorney's ability to conduct a multi-jurisdictional practice than what existed under the former Code of Professional Responsibility (Maine Bar Rule 3), the exceptions to Rule 5.5 are not applicable or relevant to this Attorney's dilemma. He should refer this prospective client to legal resources in North Carolina and assist her in doing so.

*Disclaimer: The Informal Ethics Advisory Notes from Bar Counsel are intended as outreach by the office of Bar Counsel for the use and benefit of the Maine bar. These scenarios are drawn from actual telephone calls received by the attorneys in the office of Bar Counsel in the course of providing informal advice on the Code of Professional Responsibility, known as Bar Counsel's "Ethics Hotline." The particular advice in each case is limited with reference to the particular factual situation related by the inquiring attorney who must be inquiring about his or her own conduct or the conduct of a member of his or her firm. We do not provide any advice to one attorney about the conduct of another attorney unless they are members of the same law firm. In the telephone opinions, we usually explore and discuss additional factual variables. However, I have attempted to pare down these factual scenarios to make the email newsletter more readable and useful in a general sense. Obviously, that creates the risk that slight variations on the facts, to a learned reader, may give rise to a different analysis and conclusion.