When I first started practicing, almost 15 years ago, my practice, like many others, was focused solely in the jurisdiction where I maintained my law license. The notion of seamlessly practicing across state lines was difficult. Email was not yet widely accepted as a primary form of communication, busy signals on the fax machine were routine, and attorneys still appeared for all depositions and court hearings in person. However, with the development of modern technologies—electronic filings, videoconferences, and telephonic court appearances, to name a few—this concept has seen drastic changes. As more attorneys begin to narrow their practices and become “experts” in his or her field, the trend among clients is to hire the attorney and not the firm. Thus it is not uncommon, nor is it difficult, for an attorney to maintain a geographically widespread practice, reaching into many other states and even other countries.
I am currently licensed in multiple jurisdictions and often serve as local counsel for attorneys both within and outside of my firm. Practicing in foreign jurisdictions is not difficult, but to do it effectively, I recommend that you keep the following advice in mind:
1. Check the local rules…and then check them again! The vast majority of issues that arise with a multi-jurisdictional practice can be prevented by spending a little bit of time familiarizing yourself with the local rules and/or any specific standing orders or chambers rules issued by the judge. Do not assume that because a certain format or page limit is acceptable in your home jurisdiction it will be acceptable in all other jurisdictions. Nor should you assume that because you do not regularly practice in that jurisdiction that a judge will show any sympathy for your erroneous filing. If a court has taken the time to formalize a rule or procedure to writing, you should take the time to read and appropriately apply that rule or procedure.
2. Consult with (and trust) local counsel. If the local rules are difficult to decipher or if you do not care to do your own research, an alternative is to seek the advice of local counsel. Never underestimate the value of speaking to someone who practices regularly in that jurisdiction. Whether it is information on the judge, other attorneys, or unique local practices in a specific court, local counsel can assist you in moving your case forward with great efficiency while winning over the respect of other counsel and the court. Consulting with local counsel and trusting local counsel are two separate concepts. After providing my recommendation, I frequently hear “we do not have to do that in Texas” or “but in New York, the judge will consider it if we do it this way.” The most frustrating part of serving as local counsel is trying to convince foreign counsel that his or her way of doing things is not accepted in this jurisdiction. If you retain local counsel, listen to local counsel. You retained local counsel for a reason. Let them do what you are paying him or her to do. You will thank them later.
3. Plan ahead. Acknowledge that you are wandering into unfamiliar territory and that you may need more time than usual to determine the local rules or procedures of a court. Does this court maintain a 5 p.m. filing deadline? Does this court accept electronic filings? Do you need to associate with local counsel to become admitted pro hac vice? Is there a standard cover sheet for filing? Does the court need courtesy copies delivered to chambers? These are all questions that can be easily managed if you are not attempting to file at the last minute. Do yourself a favor and leave yourself twice as much time to address these common issues or, in the worst case, refile the document if it is rejected.
Although you may be hired for your expertise in a specific area of law, if you cannot competently navigate the local rules and procedures of each jurisdiction, you may ultimately be more of a liability than an asset to your client. Do yourself and your client a favor: Take the time to learn the jurisdiction.