Exposure to Disciplinary Action Away From Home
In most circumstances an attorney may only practice law in jurisdictions where she is licensed. Practicing law in a foreign jurisdiction may expose the professional to prosecution for the unauthorized practice of law. The Ohio Supreme Court recently considered whether an attorney who is not licensed to practice in the jurisdiction is subject to the forum state’s disciplinary authority in Disciplinary Counsel v. Harris, 2013-Ohio-4026 (Ohio Sept. 26, 2013).
In Harris, the defendant attorney was a member of the DC bar. Although he wasn’t licensed to practice in Ohio, the attorney represented several Ohio residents in bankruptcy proceedings. After learning of his activities, the Ohio disciplinary board charged the attorney with violating Ohio’s rules of professional conduct.
In his defense, the attorney contended that he was not subject to Ohio’s disciplinary authority because the board’s jurisdiction only extended to attorneys licensed in Ohio. The Ohio Supreme Court agreed. However, the attorney was still in hot water. The Ohio Supreme Court considered whether the attorney engaged in the unauthorized practice of law and referred the matters to its Unauthorized Practice of Law Board.
While most understand and comply with the fundamental principle of limiting a professional practice to those jurisdictions where the professional is licensed, many attorneys may unknowingly engage in the unauthorized practice of law by conducting seemingly innocuous activities. These concerns can arise in the context of interstate subpoena practice, where enforcing an out-of-state subpoena may require an attorney to appear before the court of another state. As a result, attorneys should be cautious when invoking the jurisdiction of another state. Failure to obey local rules may subject the attorney to disciplinary action, even if one is not subject to the state’s ethics rules.