ACC Weighs in on Arizona's In-House Pro Bono Rules
The Association of Corporate Counsel wants Arizona to make it easier for in-house counsel to provide pro bono legal services in the stateand theyre pushing the Arizona Supreme Court to adopt rule changes that would do just that.
This week the in-house bar association made its views known in a comment letter [PDF] regarding a petition under consideration at Arizonas high court. The petition, filed last year by the State Bar of Arizona, seeks to amend Rule 38 of the Rules of the Supreme Court and expand the pool of lawyers who can perform pro bono workincluding in-house counsel who are licensed in another state.
The pending amendment simply recognizes that all of Arizonas in-house lawyers can serve pro bono clients with the same excellence that they already serve their employers, according to the letter, filed May 21.
Given the nature of companies that have operations in multiple states or jurisdictions, in-house lawyers are often sent by their employers to perform legal work in a state where theyre not licensed by the local bar. And even though a state may allow those attorneys to practice law on behalf of their clients, many states restrict them from representing third-party clients on a pro bono basis.
Arizona, for example, had required that in-house attorneys who are registered, but not licensed, in the state to practice law for a minimum of five yearsand then undergo an additional certification process before working pro bono. Last December, the high court agreed to modify those requirements [PDF] on an emergency basis, effective January 1 of this year.
But even under the modified version of the rule currently in place, registered in-house attorneys can only volunteer their services in association with an approved legal services organization that employs an Arizona attorney.
In recent years fighting such restrictions has become a major advocacy platform for ACCwhich views the issue not only in terms of access to justice for low-income individuals, but also in terms of respect afforded to the in-house bar.
That supervision requirement is, as you might imagine, a little dispiriting to in-house lawyers, Amar Sarwal, ACCs chief legal strategist tells CorpCounsel.com. He cites Colorado, Virginia, and Illinois as the three states that have adopted rules allowing in-house attorneys to provide a wide range of pro bono legal servicesup to representing clients in courtsans supervision.
ACCs Arizona chapter president Mark Rogers, who co-signed the comment letter with Sarwal, echoes that sentiment. We think the in-house bar is as capable as attorneys practicing in firms, and there doesnt need to be any extra scrutiny of them, he says.
Indeed, the comment letter urges the Arizona Supreme Court to adopt an even broader modification of Rule 38 than it already has on the emergency basis.
By requiring registered in-house counsel to work in association with an approved legal services organization, the proposal would wrongly imply that that the covered in-house lawyerswhose employers hire them because they are smart and effective and experiencedare second-class counsel, the letter states.
ACC has previously filed comment letters on pro bono rules in states including Virginia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Florida. The organization is also preparing to file similar comments in Ohio, New York, and the District of Columbia, according to Sarwal.