The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, for example, adopted a new local rule that allows admission without local counsel. The rule explicitly permits any “member in good standing of the bar of a United States district court to move for special admission,” even if counsel is not a member in good standing of the Florida bar. Although the court did not explain the reason for the change, the new rule recognizes the uniformity of federal procedure that significantly reduces the need for local counsel. A minority of district courts, including some located in Texas, Illinois, and Ohio, also do not require local counsel for admission.
North Carolina’s three federal courts, on the other hand, follow the majority of courts that limit eligibility to practice before it to attorneys who are admitted to and in good standing with the state bar where the district court sits. Out-of-state counsel wishing to represent a client in federal court in North Carolina must engage a local attorney who is a member of that district’s bar and who will enter her appearance on the record. Next, if the matter is before the Eastern or Middle Districts of North Carolina, the out-of-state attorney must enter a notice of special appearance. Or, if the matter is before the Western District of North Carolina, local counsel must move for the out-of-state attorney’s admission pro hac vice. All district courts in California and Georgia similarly require local counsel for admission.
District courts often justify admission based on an association with a local attorney because the attorney is more likely to have a thorough understanding of local rules of procedure and practice to ensure the fair and efficient administration of justice. These jurisdictions believe the local practitioner can help avoid unnecessary judicial inefficiencies that save attorney time and client money. Clients retaining local counsel can also potentially benefit from their favorable relationships with, and a good reputation among, the judges on the court and other attorneys in the community. These relationships may increase the chances for obtaining a client’s desired outcome.
The Restatement (Third) of Law Governing Lawyers criticizes the federal court rules requiring lawyers practicing before the court to be licensed by the state in which the federal court sits as “inconsistent” with the relative uniformity of federal law and the “nature of the court’s business.” While district courts are beginning to ease admission requirements, they nevertheless recommend retention of local counsel. For example, the Middle District of Florida says that “it will often be important and best practice to retain local counsel to guide counsel who is outside the district or not a member of the district’s bar with local practice and custom.”
The next time your client is litigating in federal district court outside of your home state, examine the local rules to determine whether admission is contingent on retaining local counsel. If the jurisdiction allows special admission without local counsel, consider the level of complexity of the legal issues involved in the case, and the amount in controversy before making a recommendation to your client regarding retention of local counsel. If your client decides to retain local counsel, interview local counsel to determine the nature and scope of his or her experience. Ask how frequently they appear in the court where your case lies, whether they have familiarity with the claims and defenses pertinent to your case, and whether they have experience drawing juries in that court.