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Another Word on the Virtual Law Office Dear Editor: Your editorial of Jan. 27, “The Virtual Law Office” [ 171 N.J.L.J. 230], supports the elimination of the requirement that an attorney practicing law in New Jersey have a bona fide office in the State. Just so that we know what we are talking about, a virtual law office in New Jersey is a law office that is not real. It is “make believe.” That is not for me. And there are two premises of the editorial to which I object. The first is the gratuitous statement in the editorial that the bona fide office rule is the product of “an enduring strain of parochialism in the protection of New Jersey lawyers . . . reflective of a poor sense of self-esteem.” One who could write that sentence did not truly know the late Chief Justice Wilentz. He was the least parochial of persons. The Chief’s idea of a good vacation was to go between the George V in Paris and the Connaught in London. No parochialism or lack of self-esteem in that man. Although the opinion is unsigned, there is no mistaking Chief Justice Wilentz’s style in In re Sackman, 90 N.J.521 (1982), the case that explained the rationale for the bona fide office rule. In recognition of concerns raised about the requirements of a principal office for a nonresident attorney, as opposed to the bona fide office required for a domiciliary attorney, the Court decided, as a matter of policy, to amend the rule to remove the distinction between domiciliaries and nondomiciliaries. We believed “that the proper response is not the kind of rule that if applied elsewhere would stifle the interstate movement of attorneys, but rather the tailoring of a rule allowing interstate movement while at the same time assuring a sufficient degree of competence, accessibility and accountability.” The Court’s ruling was based not on parochialism or protectionism but on the public interest. Accountability and accessibility were the values that we sought to foster. What is the public interest here? It is to make more qualified lawyers available to New Jersey’s citizens. That interest is achieved by eliminating restrictions that reason and experience have shown are not needed for the public’s protection No one before us has suggested that the public interest would be served by a limitation on the number of lawyers authorized to practice in New Jersey. Whether the financial interest of the bar would be served by any such limitation is irrelevant unless and until that financial interest can be equated with the public interest, which we doubt it ever could. We assume, and believe, that the more qualified lawyers in New Jersey, the better the public will be served; that potential clients of all income levels will benefit from more lawyers being available; that the increase in competition may have the beneficial effect of lowering fees; that if any risks to the public interest are caused by such increased competition, they can be controlled by this Court; and that the adverse economic impact, if any, on lawyers now practicing in New Jersey is no more relevant to the issue before us than it is to the number of new attorneys admitted as a result of each new bar examination. The New Jersey State Bar Association has not suggested any contrary contention. [ Sackman, supra, 90 N.J. at 530-31.] The other flawed premise of the editorial is that the debate is just about “choosing not to travel to New York or Philadelphia for in-person conferences.” As I read the proposed change, there is no radius within which the New Jersey licensed attorney must have an office. Many clients do not choose their lawyers; lawyers are chosen for them by insurance companies. The attorney may be farther away than Manhattan. Conceivably, Allstate Insurance Company could run its cases out of Northfield, Illinois, or a regional office in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Any New Jersey insured wishing to discuss a case in person would have to do more than cross a bridge or tunnel. I know that it is too late to return to the familiar images of the past with law offices as might be portrayed in a Norman Rockwell painting. But law remains a personal profession. We must win by persuasion. We cannot win by force. In that arena there is an enduring value in fostering personal relationships among the contesting parties and counsel. A virtual law office is an impersonal law office. We should seek to increase, not decrease, personal relationships. Daniel J. O’Hern Newark The writer, a former state Supreme Court justice, is an editorial board member.

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