The Judicial Branch’s Rules Committee has tabled a proposal that would have allowed attorneys to move into the state and immediately begin to practice while awaiting formal bar admission in Connecticut.
The concept was recommended by the American Bar Association last year as a way to address concerns of a growing number of lawyers who find their careers interrupted when they relocate. The issue was widely debated when the ABA Ethics 20/20 Commission proposed the model rule; concerns were raised over how the conduct of these out-of-state lawyers would be regulated.
Still, the proposal was endorsed by the Connecticut Bar Association in February. However, the Rules Committee on April 29 opted against it, even as it approved a number of proposals, including one that would allow Connecticut attorneys to represent clients in family law cases without committing themselves to the entire case. The next step for all the endorsed proposals is a public hearing, followed by a voted at the annual meeting of state judges in June.
In general, it appears that the Judicial Branch is looking to adopt most of the model rules established by the American Bar Association. Just not what the ABA calls its Model Rule on Practice Pending Admission — at least not yet.
As it stands, a lawyer moving to the state must pass the Connecticut bar exam if they have been practicing for less than five years. More experienced lawyers must still be approved by state bar examiners, a process that can take months.
The proposed rule would have allowed transplanted lawyers who are in good standing, and who had an active practice the three previous years, to establish a practice in Connecticut for up to one year while awaiting bar admission.
"I’m disappointed they didn’t want to have this in Connecticut," said Fred Ury, a Fairfield attorney and member of the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20. "The very reason we recommended that rule to the ABA is that we heard a lot of people want to be able to move more easily, for instance when their spouse is transferred" to another state.
Ury said the trend in Europe and Canada is to acknowledge that lawyers, like other professionals, often move from one place to another. "I truly am an advocate for the drivers’ license concept of law licensing," he said, referring to how people can move from one state to another and not have to obtain a new driver’s license before getting behind the wheel. "The world is moving toward ease of transfer…..It’s just a matter of time" before the rule comes up again for review in Connecticut.
The CBA committee on professional ethics recommended the new rule on practice pending admission. But according to Marcy Stovall, a Pullman & Comley attorney who serves on the committee, the proposal was tabled after concerns were raised by Statewide Bar Counsel Michael Bowler and the Chief Disciplinary Counsel. "I think we’ll circle back around and look at it next year," Stovall said.
She said lawyer mobility has been a key reason for other rule changes. For instance, there is a proposed amendment to Rule 1.6, which concerns lawyers who change firms. Under the current rule, attorneys are banned from revealing client information, unless the client first gives informed consent.
The change being considered would allow an attorney to reveal limited information about prior representations in circumstances where the lawyers believes disclosure is necessary to "detect and resolve conflicts of interest."
Such disclosure of confidential client information would be allowed only in circumstances when an attorney changes law firms, or when a firm has been sold to — or merged — with another firm. Under the rule, the disclosure of any information that would prejudice the client would still be prohibited from disclosure.
Other pending rule changes would follow the ABA’s lead by requiring attorneys "to keep up to date on the benefits and risks associated with technology" in their practice areas.
Another rule awaiting approval would tighten the reinstatement process for attorneys after their licenses have been suspended.
That proposal was a direct response to former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim, who lose his law license after he was convicted of corruption and served seven years in prison. Ganim was denied reinstatement last year, in spite of a recommendation by a Fairfield County standing committee of lawyers who felt he should be permitted to practice law again.
The three Superior Court judges who denied Ganim’s reinstatement, Barbara Bellis, Julia DiCocco Dewey and Elliot Solomon, wrote in their decision that Ganim has not shown remorse for his crimes nor demonstrated the moral character needed to practice law after serving his prison sentence.
Patricia King, the state’s chief disciplinary counsel, said the rule would first require a lawyer to fill out a form requesting reinstatement. King’s office would then submit a report on whether it thinks reinstatement should be granted.
Lawyers seeking reinstatement would no longer appear before a standing committee in the judicial district where they reside.
Instead, a standing committee would be assigned from another judicial district to prevent friendships and professional relationships from influencing decisions. If the rule passes, King said, "lawyers seeking reinstatement would appear before a standing committee where they aren’t known."
Finally, the Rules Committee for the first time paved the way to approve limited scope representation in Connecticut. It endorsed the idea of a pilot program that would allow lawyers to represent clients in portions of family law cases. Judicial Branch officials have said the pilot program would be tested in two judicial districts, though those districts have not yet been designated.
Under the proposal, lawyers could be hired by clients to handle agreed-upon work without being obligated to see cases through to their conclusion. Lawyers would be released from the cases immediately upon the filing of a completion form. Court administrators believe limited scope representation will help reduce the large number of pro se cases in family court.
All of the proposed rule changes will be discussed at a public hearing on May 26 in the state Supreme Court chambers. They will then be taken up by the Judges of the Superior Court, who will vote on the rules at their June annual meeting.•