Massachusetts’ highest court has held that a lawyer’s contract work at New York’s Sullivan & Cromwell while he was licensed in New Jersey counts toward "the active practice of law" requirement for admission to the Massachusetts bar.
On May 10 in Schomer v. Board of Bar Examiners, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed bar examiners’ November 2011 denial of Jesse Daniel Schomer’s petition for admission to the state bar. The board held that Schomer wasn’t actively engaged in the practice of law in a jurisdiction where he was admitted to the bar for five of the seven years before his petition.
Schomer worked nearly continually for Sullivan & Cromwell from July 2005 through November 2008 and for Newman Ferrara from March 2009 until his admission to the New York bar that October.
Justice Francis Spina wrote the unanimous opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roderick Ireland and justices Margot Botsford, Robert Cordy, Fernande Duffly, Ralph Gants and Barbara Lenk.
It is "undisputed," Spina wrote, that Schomer was engaged in the active practice of law at the two New York firms before October 2009. "[W]e are not prepared to conclude that Schomer was engaged in the ‘unauthorized’ practice of law where the New York bar has seen fit to admit him to practice."
In a footnote, Spina wrote that the case "highlights the legal and ethical complexities surrounding the multijurisdictional practice of law." He noted that the practice of law is now global, with lawyers asked to do work for their firm or corporation in multiple states.
In an e-mail, Schomer said he looks forward to "becoming a productive and contributive member" of the Massachusetts bar.
"It has been my position since the inception of this dispute that the Board’s policy was entirely without basis in the law and that, as applied to the facts of cases such as mine, the policy showed itself to be entirely out of touch with the realities of multijurisdictional practice," he said.
That’s particularly true in an era when legal market conditions require so many young lawyers to start their careers in contract-based positions, he added.
Board chairman Geoffrey Bok, a partner at Boston’s Stoneman, Chandler & Miller, said via e-mail that board members and staff would not comment on Supreme Judicial Court decisions.
Sheri Qualters can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.