Some time ago I wrote a column regarding “Practicing Law Out of Place,” see March 29, 2022. Recently the Pennsylvania Bar News, a newspaper of the Pennsylvania Bar Association published a similar article titled “Staying Out of Trouble While Out of State,” October 9, 2023 edition, by Andrew M. Lamberton, Esq. and Paul C. Troy, Esq. I was interested in what the Pennsylvania Bar publication had to say.
The question, of course, is whether and to what extent Pennsylvania lawyers traveling to other jurisdictions would experience not only difficulties but potential sanctions or discipline if they practiced “out of their wheelhouse” so to speak. It is a significant issue especially since many lawyers I know live in one state (my experience is Pennsylvania) during the warmer months of the year and trek to others (Florida being only one of them) during the colder portions. What can busy lawyers do while enjoying the warmer clime or are they limited to recreational activities only?
First, not everything we do is actually practicing law. There are some things I could think of that, although law-related (such as writing, for instance) that would not actually be considered engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. Also, as I pointed out in my prior article, physical presence in another state (where you are not admitted) while giving advice on Pennsylvania law to someone in Pennsylvania (where you are admitted) is fine. Think zoom, for instance.
The Pa. Bar article cites an American Bar Association committee as follows:
“In the absence of a local jurisdiction’s finding that the activity constitutes the unauthorized practice of law, a lawyer may practice the law authorized by the lawyer’s licensing jurisdiction for clients of that jurisdiction, while physically located in a jurisdiction where the lawyer is not licensed if the lawyer does not hold out the lawyer’s presence or availability to perform legal services in the local jurisdiction or actually provide legal services for matters subject to the local jurisdiction unless otherwise authorized.”’ Florida is a good example since Florida is well known to be adverse to retiring attorneys setting up shop in the state in competition with Florida lawyers.
I actually enjoy the description given in my prior article taken from the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) which published an article, “Aging Out of Place” by Josh Ard, Esq. which stated:
“Remote Practice. ‘If a lawyer is working on legal matters on a plane, does anybody ask what state she was flying over? If she is on a phone call in a car, does it matter if she crosses a state line? What about working on client matters using a computer while on vacation in another state? Why then should it matter if a lawyer works remotely from her home in a new state? …” Utah in an Ethics Opionion “puts it more bluntly: ‘What interest does the Utah State Bar have in regulating an out-of-state lawyer’s practice for out-of-state clients simply because he has a private home in Utah? And the answer is the same —none.’”
So a Pennsylvania lawyer advising a Pennsylvania client regarding Pennsylvania law by phone or email or zoom or while lounging on the beach in Florida should have no problem.
What could be a problem then? I am thinking that if I am physically located in Florida and am admitted to practice law in Pennsylvania – but not Florida – and I go next door to share a beer with my Florida neighbor who I advise I am an attorney and I volunteer to represent him in litigation against the Florida homeowner’s association in a Florida Court I very likely have a problem and especially so if I charge for those services. As in many areas there are degrees of non-compliance.
What Are Alternatives for Clients Who Need Help In Other Jurisdictions? Several offices, including our own maintain referral connections with attorneys throughout the country. For elder law, estates and planning issues we do this mostly through our association with the National Association of Elder Law
Attorneys and also the National Elder Law Foundation so if a client needs to know in advance, for instance, the effect of moving to New York or Florida, or North Carolina or Georgia, we have member attorneys to whom we can refer the client and we can even participate in online or zoom conversations with them to solve the problems of differing jurisdictions.
Esquire, Colliton Law Associates, P.C. Janet Colliton has practiced law for over 38 years, 37 of them in Chester County, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her practice, Colliton Law Associates, PC, is limited to elder law, Medicaid, including advice, applications and appeals, and other benefits planning including Veterans benefits, life care and special needs planning, guardianships, retirement, and estate planning and administration.