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Should Foreign Lawyers be Able to Practice in Limited Fashion?

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on May 04, 2011 6:48 AM

The ability of foreign attorneys to provide legal advice and serve as in-house counsel in the United States may soon be expanded.

The ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 is proposing amendments to the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

With increased globalization and more foreign attorneys working on both domestic and international legal issues, this topic is of interest to many in house counsels.

The proposed amendments will:

  • allow foreign attorneys to work as in-house counsel,
  • allow foreign attorneys to apply for pro hac vice admission, and
  • merge the ABA Model Rule for Temporary Practice by Foreign Lawyers with Rule 5.5.

The proposed amendments would only be applicable to those foreign attorneys who are admitted to practice law in their jurisdiction. The ABA Commission is fielding comments on their proposal. The submission period for comments ends July 15, 2011.

Expanding the authority of foreign lawyers may have effects on both the legal employment market as well as on the overall quality of legal services. 

These proposed amendments could increase the well of legal expertise in the United States.  Experienced foreign attorneys would no longer need to be admitted to a U.S. jurisdiction in order to qualify to work as in-house counsel. 

The proposed amendments will not necessarily open the floodgates with foreign-educated attorneys. Foreign attorneys will be vetted twice: first abroad, as they must be a member in good standing of that jurisdiction. Then again domestically by the ABA, as they must either register to be an in-house counsel or apply for pro hac vice admission.

The proposed amendments will be finalized and then discussed in the August 2012 ABA Annual Meeting.

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