No Office? No Right to Practice

Many attorneys are licensed to practice in multiple states.  By extending one’s practice across several jurisdictions, lawyers can expand the scope of services offered to their clients and increase their appeal.  However, in order to provide this service, lawyers must comply with certain laws requiring that the attorney maintain a physical office within the state in order to practice there.

For attorneys practicing in large firms whose footprint extends across several states, these rules may not pose a limitation. However, attorneys in smaller practices, who do not have the personnel to open several offices, could be precluded from practicing outside of their principal place of business altogether.

The Supreme Court is now considering a challenge to a New York State law that requires New York licensed attorneys to maintain an office there in order to practice.  The suit was filed on behalf of a group of New Jersey-based attorneys licensed to practice in New York, who claim that it violates their rights under the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the US Constitution.  The plaintiffs won their suit in the Northern District of New York in 2008, but were subsequently overruled on appeal by a divided panel of the Second Circuit.  Now the Supreme Court will decide the matter in a decision that could affect attorneys throughout the country.  Until the case is decided, however, attorneys must consider rules requiring an in-state office in order to practice law.  Simply being licensed in a state may not be sufficient grounds to practice there, and could lead to costly disciplinary action if violated.