Fairly regularly, lawyers take in-house legal positions in states in which they are not licensed to practice law. Should those attorneys be concerned about violating the rule against the unauthorized practice of law in the states in which they find themselves?
Under certain circumstances, Georgia and a number of other states allow in-house counsel to perform legal services for their employers, even if they are not licensed in the state.
Rule 5.5(d) allows an in-house lawyer not admitted to practice law in Georgia to provide legal services in Georgia if the following conditions are met:
- the lawyer must be authorized to practice law by the duly constituted and authorized governmental body of any State or Territory of the United States or the District of Columbia;
- the lawyer must not be disbarred or suspended from practice in any jurisdiction;
- the legal services are being provided to the lawyer’s employer or its organizational affiliates; and
- the legal services being provided are not services for which the forum requires pro hac vice admission.
Comment 16 to Rule 5.5 explains its rationale, stating that the lawyer’s ability to represent the employer outside the jurisdiction in which the lawyer is licensed “generally serves the interests of the employer and does not create an unreasonable risk to the client and others because the employer is well situated to assess the … lawyer’s qualifications and the quality of the … lawyer’s work.”
While Rule 5.5(d) allows an unadmitted in-house lawyer to provide legal services to its employer in Georgia, it explicitly does not allow the lawyer to provide personal legal services to the employer’s officers or employees. In addition, the in-house lawyer will be subject to the disciplinary authority of the State of Georgia. Lastly, though not necessarily required in all situations, the in-house lawyer would be wise to inform the employer-client that the lawyer is not licensed to practice law in Georgia.