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In one week, a Virginia Bar task force will decide if a proposal calling for the admission of all in-house counsel to the state bar will stand — or if it will bow to a flood of criticism from corporate attorneys. The quickly convened meeting comes after corporations and organizations across the state — from Verizon to AOL Time Warner Inc. to Smithfield Foods Inc. — lobbied heavily against the proposal in recent weeks. In a jurisdiction that currently does not mandate admission to the bar by corporate counsel working in Virginia but licensed elsewhere, requiring admission means that bar officials can keep track of the hundreds of counsel in the state, says the bar’s executive director, Thomas Edmonds. “In about 40 states, this or more regulation is required,” adds Edmonds. But bringing Virginia in line with other states also means that corporations, accustomed to the state’s more lenient rules, could be forced to fork over thousands of dollars in application fees and annual dues. In-house attorneys would be subject to all of the bar’s rules — despite the fact that they would be permitted to practice in Virginia only for their employers. “One of [our] biggest concerns is that it appears that corporate counsel will have all of the obligations of a member of the state bar without all of the rights,” says Washington Metropolitan Area Corporate Counsel Association President Robin McCune, a senior counsel at the Computer Sciences Corp. in Falls Church. For much of 2001, the work that the bar’s task force was doing on the proposal seemed noncontroversial. The task force drafted a rule that would let the bar keep track of a body of attorneys that had mushroomed in recent years. The draft rule also addressed problems that out-of-state corporate counsel had waiving into the Virginia Bar — an alternative to the two-day bar examination normally open to attorneys with more than five years of experience. The bar council approved the proposed rule in February. The task force’s chairman, W. Scott Street III, a partner at Richmond’s Williams Mullen, was preparing last month to send it to the state Supreme Court, which finalizes and adopts all rules. But then the adverse comments came pouring in. “We thought we had everyone’s consent,” says the bar’s president, Michael Glasser, a partner at Norfolk’s Glasser & Glasser. “Obviously, we didn’t reach everybody,” says Edmonds. In an unusual move, the executive committee met on May 2 and decided to send the proposal back to the task force “to consider the comments that were made after our council approved the draft rule,” says the bar’s ethics counsel, James McCauley. Task force members received an e-mail on May 13 asking them to schedule time for a meeting on June 4 at 10 a.m. at the bar’s offices in Richmond. No other meetings are scheduled, but “we should be able to get a consensus in a day,” says task force member Catherine Mayes. To move the decision-making process along, Mayes, who is associate general counsel at Reston’s Sallie Mae and head of the bar’s Corporate Counsel Section, volunteered to put together a “talking paper” on the comments, which will be distributed in advance to all task force members. If the task force resolves the controversy, then the proposal can again be reviewed by the bar council at its mid-June meeting. The council must approve the draft before it is sent to the state’s high court. If no consensus is reached in June, the task force must wait until the council’s next meeting, scheduled for October.

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