VIRGINIA UPL OPINION 201


Activities of Attorneys Not Licensed to Practice Law in Virginia and Working in the Virginia Office of a Multijurisdictional Law Firm.

Your inquiry concerns a multi-jurisdictional law firm and whether attorneys practicing in the firm’s Virginia office, who are not licensed to practice law in Virginia, are permitted to perform certain activities.

You have asked the committee to opine as to whether it would be the unauthorized practice of law in Virginia for those non-Virginia attorneys to:

1. Engage in the practice of law when the matter concerns the law of the jurisdiction where the attorney is licensed to practice.

2. Provide legal representation in matters involving federal law.

3. Meet with and advise clients, who are not Virginia residents, in matters which do not concern Virginia law.

4. Provide legal services concerning Virginia law when in association or supervised by a Virginia-licensed attorney.

The Committee considered your inquiry at its December 14 meeting and has directed me to transmit its conclusions to you.

In regard to your first inquiry, the committee has recently opined that a foreign attorney (i.e., a licensed attorney not admitted in Virginia) may advise a client in Virginia on matters involving the law of the jurisdiction in which the foreign attorney is admitted to practice. UPL Op. 195 (2000). Prior opinions concluding that such activity is unauthorized practice have been overruled. [1] However, any law firm stationery or other public communications identifying the lawyer with the Virginia office must indicate that the lawyer is either not admitted in Virginia or that the lawyer is admitted only in those states where he or she is admitted to practice. UPL Op. 196 (2000).

As to your second inquiry concerning matters involving federal law, a foreign attorney may advise and prepare legal documents for a Virginia client in Virginia on such matters, assuming that the foreign attorney is admitted to practice before that federal court. [2] Such advice and document preparation may be provided only to the extent that the federal matter is not impacted by Virginia law and if Virginia legal issues are not involved. UPL Op. 158 (1996). A non-Virginia licensed attorney may also be authorized by federal law to represent persons before a federal administrative agency and may therefore give advice to and prepare legal instruments for such clients in the regular course and within the scope of practice authorized by such federal agency. UPR 9-102. The committee has previously opined that it is not the unauthorized practice of law for an attorney, not licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, to maintain an office in Virginia for a practice limited exclusively to matters before the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service. UPL Op. 55 (1983). However, such attorneys must indicate on their letterhead stationery and other public communications that their practice is limited exclusively to practice before that agency. Id. See also UPL Op. 196 (2000). Therefore, an attorney in your multi-jurisdictional law firm need not be admitted to the Virginia State Bar to represent clients in Virginia on matters involving federal law as described above. However, any law firm letterhead stationery or other public communications identifying such lawyer as practicing in the Virginia office must denote the limitation on that lawyerís practice. UPL Op. 196 (2000).

As to your third inquiry, the committee has previously opined that it would constitute the unauthorized practice of law for a foreign attorney to advise any client in Virginia on matters that involve law which is neither federal law nor the law of a jurisdiction in which the foreign attorney is authorized to practice law. UPL Op. 158 (1996). Therefore, a non-Virginia licensed attorney practicing in the Virginia office of a multi-jurisdictional law firm cannot meet with clients in Virginia to give legal advice involving the application of the law of a jurisdiction in which the attorney is not admitted to practice.

Finally, in response to your fourth inquiry, A foreign attorney is regarded as a “non-lawyer??? for purposes of the unauthorized practice of law rules. Va. S. Ct. R., pt. 6, § I (C). [3] Except as permitted under the cited rule, [4] a foreign attorney, although admitted to and in good standing in the bar of his home jurisdiction, may not advise or prepare legal documents for a Virginia client in Virginia on matters involving Virginia law. The foreign attorney may give advice to and prepare legal instruments for a Virginia lawyer who may then decide whether such work product is acceptable for the client. UPL Op. 107 (1987). Therefore, a non-Virginia licensed attorney may provide legal services concerning Virginia law when directly supervised by a Virginia-licensed attorney if the attorney-client relationship remains between the Virginia attorney and the client.

Committee Opinion
January 22, 2001

Approved by Council
June 14, 2001

Approved by the Virginia Supreme Court
October 1, 2001



[1] UPL Op. 100 prohibited a D.C. attorney, who desired to move his practice to Virginia, from conducting a practice involving federal legislative, governmental and advisory matters, none of which involved the application of Virginia law. UPL Op. 107 declared that it is the unauthorized practice of law for a non-Virginia attorney to render legal advice in Virginia even on the law of his home jurisdiction. Both opinions were overruled by UPL Op. 158 (1996). See also UPL Op. 195 (2000).

[2] A foreign attorney must be careful, however, to observe the local rules of the federal courts sitting in Virginia, which require that an attorney either be a member of the Virginia State Bar, or be admitted on motion, pro hac vice, in association with an attorney admitted to practice in the Virginia federal courts. See Local Rule 83.1 of the United States District Court for Eastern District of Virginia; Local Rule 3 of the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia. Not all federal courts require attorneys to be admitted to practice in the state in which they sit. Therefore, it is possible for a foreign attorney in Virginia to advise a Virginia client on matters pending in a federal court outside of Virginia, if the foreign attorney is admitted to practice in that federal court.

[3] The term “non-lawyer??? means any person, firm, association or corporation not duly licensed or authorized to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia. However, the term “non-lawyer??? shall not include foreign attorneys who provide legal advice or services in Virginia to clients under the following restrictions and qualifications:

1. Such foreign attorney must be admitted to practice and in good standing in any state in the United States; and
2. The services provided must be on an occasional basis only and incidental to representation of a client whom the attorney represents elsewhere; and
3. The client must be informed that the attorney is not admitted in Virginia.

A lawyer who provides services not authorized under this rule must associate with an attorney authorized to practice in Virginia.

Nothing herein shall be deemed to overrule or contradict the requirements of Rules of this Court regarding foreign attorneys admitted to practice in the courts of the Commonwealth of Virginia including the association of counsel admitted to practice before the courts of this Commonwealth.

[4] The limited “transactional lawyer??? exception for foreign attorneys in Va. S. Ct. R., pt. 6, § I (C) does not apply to the facts in this opinion because the foreign attorney is practicing regularly in a Virginia law office and not “incidentally??? and “occasionally??? as contemplated by the cited rule.



 

Updated: Aug 28, 2006