December 16, 2020

ABA issues new guidance for lawyers to navigate model rules while working remotely

CHICAGO, Dec. 16, 2020 — The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility released today a formal opinion to help lawyers and the public better understand the application of model rules to lawyers practicing remotely, particularly when working from jurisdictions in which they are not licensed.

Formal Opinion 495 provides guidance when a lawyer may practice the law for which they are licensed while physically in a different jurisdiction. Specifically, a lawyer physically present in a jurisdiction in which they are not licensed to practice — and the local jurisdiction has not determined such practice is unauthorized – may practice if they meet the following guidelines:

  • Does not establish an office or other systematic presence in that local jurisdiction.
  • Does not “hold out” a presence or availability to perform legal services in that local jurisdiction.
  • Does not actually provide legal services for matters in that local jurisdiction, unless otherwise authorized.

The opinion notes that providing local contact information on websites, letterhead, business cards or advertising are examples of communications that would improperly suggest a local office or local presence.

The ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility periodically issues ethics opinions to guide lawyers, courts and the public in interpreting and applying ABA model ethics rules to specific issues of legal practice, client-lawyer relationships and judicial behavior. Recent ABA ethics opinions are available on the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility website.

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