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Easing restrictions barring lawyers from practicing in states where they are not admitted may reduce the level of work that national firms representing Connecticut companies in large transactions send to in-state lawyers serving as local counsel. But “it won’t cut down on the fact that [Connecticut attorneys] have to be consulted” in such deals, predicted Hartford ethics expert Ralph G. Elliot, who, as part of an informal American Bar Association committee, has studied the issue of so-called multijurisdictional practices. On July 10, incoming ABA President Martha Barnett announced the creation of a formal commission to further examine the proposed relaxation of what many lawyers contend are outdated ethical hurdles imposed on lawyers representing clients across state lines. Elliot, who is unsure if he will be named to the new panel, is one such critic of the unauthorized practice of law restrictions placed on out-of-state attorneys. For litigators, who can apply for a pro hac vice order granting them temporary admission to a foreign jurisdiction, such constraints usually aren’t a problem. But for transactional lawyers, who aren’t afforded a similar mechanism for temporary admission, it can be a different story. “These are serious issues,” declared former Connecticut Bar Association President Peter L. Costas, of Hartford’s Pepe & Hazard, “as more and more attorneys are engaged in multistate practices.” For nationally renowned experts in particular fields of law whose services are sought around the country, the burdens are especially taxing, said Costas. He’s likely not to get an argument from Robinson & Cole. Last year, land-use specialist Brian W. Blaesser and the rest of the Hartford-based firm were sued for the alleged unlicensed practice of law over $60,000 in growth-management advice they gave to Collier County, Fla. The quality of their services was not challenged. Rather, Collier County Clerk of Courts Dwight E. Brock, the custodian of county funds, brought suit after failing to find a single record confirming the Florida bar admittance of any of the R&C lawyers working on the project. The complaint sought a judicial determination as to whether Robinson & Cole should be made to return the $35,000 it had, up to that point, been paid by the county. But under a settlement approved by county commissioners last month, the firm will receive the remainder of the $60,000 it is owed. In exchange, Robinson & Cole will pay more than $7,000 of Brock’s and the county’s legal fees, according to the agreement signed by the parties. Such disputes, however, may become moot. In announcing the creation of the new ABA commission, Barnett stressed the need for the ethical rules to keep pace with changes in technology and the increased globalization of the legal profession. The plan is for the panel to submit its recommendations to the ABA’s House of Delegates in August of next year. Any changes approved by that body would be merely advisory. The highest courts in each jurisdiction would have the ultimate say on any revisions to attorney ethics rules in their states. Elliot, of Tyler Cooper & Alcorn’s Hartford office, maintained that large national firms, even if unencumbered by the burdens of unauthorized practice rules, still would hire local counsel to get the inside scoop on how local courts and government agencies operate. Though it may cut down on the overall involvement of local counsel in big deals, it is also likely to bring “out of the closet” what Elliot suspects is a common practice of using local counsel to essentially “rubberstamp” documents drafted by out-of-state lawyers, he said.

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