For years, there were lots of questions in Connecticut about whether attorneys who were not licensed to practice in Connecticut could work in-house (or directly) for Connecticut companies. Some even ended up taking the bar exam again to ensure that they were complying with the rules.
New rules that go into effect January 1, 2008 resolve those questions and provide a safe-harbor for those attorneys that may not have complied with the rules in the past. The Connecticut Bar Examining Committee has just posted the forms for compliance and a summary of all the rules — called the "Authorized House Counsel" rules — on their website, which can be found here.
For in-house attorneys (such as labor & employment counsel) not licensed to practice in Connecticut, these new rules provide a clear path to compliance. The new rules also provide a good opportunity for in-house counsel to advise other company attorneys about a relatively straightforward way to get into compliance. It’s not cheap (the fee is $1000) but it’s a small price to pay to avoid grievance problems and malpractice issues for attorneys and companies.
Who can qualify for the new category? The rules, which can be found as Practice Book 2-15A and should be read thoroughly, state that a counsel must:
- be a member of the bar in good standing in another jurisdiction (state, DC, or US territory; foreign countries do NOT qualify);
- be employed by an “organization” as defined in Section 15A or will be relocating to Connecticut within three months in furtherance of employment by such an “organization;”
- agree to abide by the rules regulating members of the Connecticut bar;
- agree to submit to the jurisdiction of the statewide grievance committee and the superior court;
- have a law degree (JD or LLB) from a law school approved by the bar examining committee (all ABA-approved law schools and Southern New England Law School and Massachusetts School of Law are approved by the committee);
- file an application for registration as an authorized house counsel with the bar examining committee together with the required forms, documents and the fee of $1,000.00.
The safe-harbor provision states that attorneys who file by June 30, 2008 as an Authorized House Counsel ("AHC"),
- will not be denied registration as AHC because he or she worked in an in-house position prior to January 1, 2008 and
- shall not be subject to an enforcement action for unauthorized practice of law for action as counsel to an “organization” prior to January 1, 2008 if the applicant ultimately becomes certified as an AHC.
Opportunities to get into compliance with a new law or rule, through a safe-harbor provision, only come around once in a long while. In-house counsel who are not yet licensed to practice in Connecticut should avail themselves of this opportunity because come July 1, 2008, "ignorance" of the new rules may not be a good defense to an unauthorized practice of law claim.
Companies should also use the next six months to ensure that all of its in-house counsel in Connecticut either comply with the new rules or are already licensed in Connecticut.