Friday, August 3, 2001
Task Force Rejects Waiver of Bar Exam for Out-of-State Lawyers
By a MetNews Staff Writer
California should continue to require lawyers from other states to pass the bar exam here in order be admitted to State Bar membership, a task force appointed by the state Supreme Court has recommended.
The Advisory Task Force on Multijurisdictional Practice “concluded that the public interest would not be served by entirely eliminating the role played by the California bar examination in screening experienced practitioners for admission to the State Bar,” the task force said in a preliminary report released Wednesday.
No minority report was released, but the report acknowledged that the task force was not unanimous.
Los Angeles County Bar Association President Rex Heinke, a Beverly Hills attorney, said yesterday that while he did not attend the task force’s last meeting, he is among those members who supported allowing some form of reciprocity or waiver for out-of-state lawyers.
The only legitimate justification for requiring experienced lawyers to pass the State Bar in order to practice here would be consumer protection, Heinke commented. The Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland partner said he didn’t think the examination is “a good barometer” when applied to those who have actually been practicing for a period of time.
“I think it has value when applied to someone who is right out of law school,” he said. But as to attorneys with a specified level of experience, he opined, the focus should be on practice-related issues, such as prior discipline or malpractice problems. Lawyers would still have to pass the character-and-fitness investigation to practice here, he noted.
The task force, which is chaired by former State Bar President Raymond Marshall, a San Francisco lawyer who was unavailable for comment yesterday, urged a more cautious approach, proposing that some restrictions on California activities by attorneys admitted elsewhere be lifted.
The group recommended:
•That out-of-state lawyers residing in California and employed full-time as in-house counsel—other than to organizations providing legal services—be allowed to register with the State Bar under a process similar to admission, but not requiring an examination. These lawyers could not appear in court, but would otherwise be allowed to practice law here on behalf of their employers.
•That lawyers from other states who are in the process of relocating to California be allowed to represent indigents as part of “qualified legal services projects,” under supervision of a licensed California attorney, while awaiting admission to the State Bar.
•That a “safe harbor” be created for out-of-state lawyers temporarily present in California to advise clients or undertake similar “discrete legal tasks” other than litigation. The task force acknowledged that this would merely recognize the reality that “out-of-state lawyers currently face little risk of disciplinary action if they undertake nonlitigation tasks on a temporary basis in California.”
•That lawyers from other states be allowed to perform limited legal services in California in anticipation of litigation. The task force noted that out-of-state attorneys may currently be admitted to appear pro hac vice, but this can only happen once suit is filed.
The panel was created by legislative mandate, set forth in Senate Bill 1782 by Sen. Bill Morrow, R-San Juan Capistrano, a persistent State Bar critic. Morrow’s staff said he was traveling during the legislative recess and not available for comment.
Morrow’s bill, in its original form, would have allowed any lawyer licensed in another state and in good standing for at least three years to practice in California. Morrow rewrote the measure to include a task force with the power to implement reciprocity rules, but in its final form—after heavily lobbying by Chief Justice Ronald M. George, among others, the bill called for the purely advisory task force.
Task force members include former State Bar presidents Andrew Guilford, James Towery, and Alan Rothenberg; former executive director of the State Bar Steven Nissen, now an aide to Gov. Gray Davis; former State Bar General Counsel Diane C. Yu, who now works for New York University; and retired Second District Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Elwood Lui, a partner in the Los Angeles office of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue.
Other members are Cristina Arguedas of Emeryville, past president of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice; Ophelia Basgal, executive director of the Alameda County Housing Authority and a former public member of the Commission on Judicial Performance; and Joanne M. Garvey of Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe in San Francisco, who is a member of an American Bar Association Commission studying multidisciplinary practice.
Rounding out the appointees are George’s principal attorney, Beth J. Jay; Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dennis M. Perluss; Senate Republican Caucus policy consultant Mike Petersen; Chief Deputy Attorney General Peter J. Siggins; and Senate Judiciary Committee chief counsel Eugene Wong.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company