How do legal ethics apply when lawyers work remotely?

The COVID-19 pandemic shifted how we work. Those able to work from home found themselves trying to figure out how to get their work done remotely. This involved setting up a home office space and conducting remote instead of in-person meetings using platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. This led to many people working in areas that are far from their actual workplace.

For some professions, this could pose problems. Some professions require the presence of a professional license to practice within a certain area. Lawyers are no different. Some found themselves working remotely far from their actual workplace. However when it comes to the practice of law, a lawyer must practice where they have jurisdiction. State law does not allow attorneys to practice wherever they want. An attorney licensed to practice in California, for example, generally cannot offer legal counsel to clients in other states unless they have jurisdiction in those states. To get jurisdiction, the lawyer needs approval from the state. This generally involves admission to the bar of the state through either passing a test or getting reciprocity.  

This is important because each state has unique laws. A failure to obtain admission from that state’s bar means the lawyer may not be familiar enough with the state’s laws to offer competent legal counsel.

When it came to the pandemic, the American Bar Association (ABA) stated attorneys could work remotely in another jurisdiction but must only offer legal counsel within the jurisdiction they are licensed to practice. An attorney could live in Nevada, Colorado or another state but must only practice where they were licensed. If licensed in California, they could only provide legal counsel for matters in California. The organization further stated that lawyers who had professional letterhead, business cards or other communications that made it appear they practiced outside of their jurisdiction could face allegations of an ethical violation.  

Archives

FindLaw Network