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An interesting phenomenon with increasing frequency is the Virtual Law Office.  In some cases the attorney is licensed in multiple states and in other cases the attorney is licensed in only their home state.  The thinking goes that by extending their practice into several states the attorney can expand their practice and increase their appeal to prospective clients.

In some cases the attorney is only practicing in federal court, ie immigration law that may allow that attorney to provide services even in jurisdictions that the attorney is not even licensed.  But even in this situation, the attorney needs to be careful to not run afoul of state licensing requirements. 

In other situations the attorney may be licensed in multiple states, but in order to provide those services, lawyers must comply with laws requiring that the attorney maintain a physical office within the state in order to practice there.

For attorneys practicing in large firms with office in several states, these rules are not a problem. However, attorneys in smaller practices could be precluded from practicing outside of their principal place of business altogether.

The US Supreme Court is now considering a challenge to a New York State law that requires New York licensed attorneys to maintain an office there in order to practice.  Attorney Ekaterina Schoenefeld’s petition for a writ of certiorari challenging New York Judiciary Law §470 along with  the Association of Corporate Counsels (ACC), which filed an amicus with the court decrying the office requirement as "draconian."

The New Jersey State Bar Association also has joined the fray, filing an amicus brief of its own supporting Schoenefeld’s position.  

The suit is on behalf of New Jersey-based attorneys licensed to practice in New York, who claim that it violates their rights under the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the US Constitution.  The plaintiffs won their suit in the Northern District of New York in 2008, but were subsequently overruled on appeal by a divided panel of the Second Circuit.  The US Supreme Court decision could affect attorneys throughout the country.  Until the case is decided attorneys need to abide or at least consider rules requiring an in-state office in order to practice law.  Simply being licensed in a state or maintaining that they have a “Federal Only” practice  may not be sufficient grounds to practice there, and could lead to costly disciplinary action if violated.

Attorney also need to be aware, that many Attorney Malpractice Insurance carriers for a variety of reasons may refuse to write an attorney that is practicing in multiple states and does not meet the current licensing and office requirements.  Also for attorneys having a “Virtual Law Office” and not disclosing this to the insurance carrier it may be considered a material non-disclosure to the insurance carrier and likely could jeopardize the Attorney Malpractice Insurance coverage.

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