Up until recently, in-house counsel at Connecticut companies could provide advice to their company without necessarily being admitted to practice law in Connecticut. Well, I shouldn’t say that they "could" but until new in-house counsel rules were passed last year, there was a next-to-nothing likelihood that in-house counsel were going to be prosecuted for unauthorized practice of law. After all, the rules were anything but clear. However, after these new rules were passed in-house counsel had no excuse. And, as is often said, ignorance of the law is no excuse.
Now, an important deadline occurs today, June 30th: the expiration of the safe-harbor provisions.
Who qualifies for a safe harbor? The rules state that a counsel must:
1. be a member of the bar in good standing in another jurisdiction (state, DC, or US territory; foreign countries do NOT qualify);
2. be employed by an “organization” as defined in Section 2-15A or will be relocating to Connecticut within three months in furtherance of employment by such an “organization;”
3. agree to abide by the rules regulating members of the Connecticut bar;
4. agree to submit to the jurisdiction of the statewide grievance committee and the superior court;
5. 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);
6. 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.
If an in-house counsel meets all of the above criteria, then he or she won’t be prosecuted for an unauthorized practice of law claim that occurred before January 1, 2008. In other words, the state gave in-house counsel who practiced law before January 1, 2008 (without being licensed) a "get out of jail" card. Those aren’t given out all that frequently, so it’s been a little surprising that more in-house counsel haven’t taken full advantage of it.
So, what’s needed by the end of today? Well, the registration forms, documents AND the fee are due (not mailed) to the Bar Examining Committee (available here).
It is a pretty big task. So, the obvious followup question is: What happens if you don’t? Well, according to the Connecticut Law Tribune article today — probably nothing, as least as of yet. The state’s budget woes leave the Statewide Grievance Committee and other related entities with insufficient resources to prosecute in-house counsel who aren’t authorized to practice law.
Of course, as with other types of violations of these types of rules, the biggest offenders are the ones that resources will likely be devoted to. So, in-house counsel can still consider submitting late forms and fees. They may not get a "get out of jail" card, but they may place lower on a "wanted" listed than other offenders.