How Lawyers Handle Cases All Over America

I live and work in New York, but I have worked on disputes that were (or are) pending in jurisdictions outside of New York.  For example, I’ve worked on cases in New Jersey courts, Massachusetts courts, in Florida courts, and in an Ohio court.

This surprises a lot of my friends, who assume I can only work on litigations in New York.  But the truth is that litigators frequently work on litigations in different jurisdictions by working with local counsel and by seeking admission pro hac vice.

Why should you continue to read this post about lawyers handling cases in other jurisdictions?

  • You can learn how to pronounce pro hac vice and then correct some dummy who says it wrong, earning the dummy’s respect.

  • You can consider using a lawyer you trust on a matter in another jurisdiction instead of some rando.

  • You are learning the English language and are looking for short articles that are written at a high school level on which to practice reading comprehension.

Lawyers Generally Can Only Practice in Jurisdictions In Which They Are Members of the Bar

In general, lawyers can only appear in courts in which they are admitted.  Lawyers usually formally become a lawyer (instead of just a law school graduate) when they are first admitted to the bar of a state court.  Then they can apply to be admitted to a federal court.  And for each additional court they want to regularly appear in, they can apply to additional the bars of those courts.

In order to be a member of the bar of a state court, lawyers generally must pass a bar exam (although recently many states have adopted the Uniform Bar Exam, so one exam helps applicants gain admission to multiple state bars).  They must also agree to pay a regular (annual or semi-annual) registration fee and do things such as take a certain number of hours of continuing legal education classes or perform free legal services.

Lawyers generally are members only of a small number of state bars.  This is because few people like taking multiple bar exams, or paying lots of registration fees, or taking a lot of continuing legal education classes.  Some lawyers, however, are members of multiple state bars.  (Gaining admission to federal bars in a state where a lawyer is already admitted to the state bar is easier and generally does not involve taking another bar exam or taking more continuing legal education).

Lawyers Can Work on Matters in Other Jurisdictions

But if an attorney has a client that has a dispute that is being (or will be) heard in a court and the attorney is not a member of that court’s bar, the attorney can still be involved.

First, if the lawyer does not appear in court, the lawyer usually can provide legal advice from their office in the state in which they are a member of the bar.  This legal advice can include legal research and conversations with a client.  They can even participate in negotiations to settle a case.

Next, a lawyer admitted to practice in one state can work with a local lawyer in another state where the matter is pending.  The local lawyer is usually referred to as “local counsel.”  The rules for what local counsel can do and what they can delegate to the client’s original counsel vary by jurisdiction.  But in my experience, I have been able to draft legal documents and have local counsel file them, so long as local counsel reviews them and agrees that everything in the documents is accurate.

Additionally, local counsel can sponsor a lawyer from another jurisdiction to be admitted to the bar temporarily, just for the one case.  That is called admission pro hac vice (pronounced pro hock veech-ay, or just “pro hock” by jaded legal pros).  The rules for what a lawyer admitted pro hac vice can do vary by jurisdiction.  On a recent matter in New Jersey, I was admitted pro hac vice, but I had to promise not to act as the lawyer in the case at trial.  And I had to explain why I was handling the case and not a local New Jersey lawyer.  I was, however, able to argue in court why the case against my client should be dismissed.

The Benefits and Downsides of Using a Pro Hac Vice Attorney

Why should you consider having a lawyer get admitted pro hac vice instead of just hiring local counsel to represent you?  Because if you already have a relationship with a lawyer you trust, you may feel more comfortable with them representing you that with a stranger.  This is especially true if you believe that your lawyer is particularly skilled or capable.  And if you use your existing lawyer, you don’t need to pay to bring a new lawyer up to speed on facts of the case if your existing lawyer already knows the facts.

So why should you consider just hiring local counsel instead of having your existing lawyer represent you?  Because it’s less expensive to hire one lawyer than to hire two, even if the local counsel in a pro hac vice matter only does a relatively small amount of work.  And because local counsel may know the local rules of the court better than your lawyer can learn them from local counsel or their own research.  And because you then don’t need to pay for your lawyer to travel to a distant court every time they need to appear before the judge.