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Connecticut Bar leaders will take a back seat to the American Bar Association on the issue of multijurisdictional practice. By a 20-15 vote June 3, the Connecticut Bar Association’s House of Delegates put off a decision on a proposal to grant out-of-state attorneys a limited ability to practice in Connecticut, until after the ABA weighs in on the matter at its annual meeting in August. The vote followed passionate debate between MJP proponents and delegates dead-set against relaxing state unauthorized-practice-of-law (UPL) rules that bar lawyers not admitted in Connecticut from representing their clients in that state without obtaining local counsel. Bridgeport, Conn., plaintiffs’ attorney James O. Gaston urged the House of Delegates to proceed with caution. Permitting MJPs, he said, would leave real estate and small-firm lawyers, in particular, unprotected against aggressive New York and Boston firms looking to tap the state’s legal market. It also would hurt consumers, Gaston maintained. “How do you regulate someone who has never passed the bar in the state of Connecticut?” he said in a subsequent interview. MJP proponents, however, downplayed such concerns as parochial and unproven. The fact of the matter, former CBA President Peter L. Costas told the organization’s governing body, is that a significant segment of the Bar violates UPL laws already. Such rules, if enforced, restrict lawyers from even taking depositions in states where they are not admitted, he claimed. DIRECTION NEEDED Bar officials, added Costas, chairman of the CBA’s Task Force on Multijurisdictional Practice, are doing a disservice to corporate clients with offices in multiple states by not updating UPL laws to reflect the increasingly national and international market for legal services. At its annual meeting Aug. 8-13 in Washington, D.C., the ABA’s House of Delegates is set to consider a rewrite of Model Rule of Professional Conduct 5.5. The revision would prevent prosecutions for the unauthorized practice of law against attorneys serving temporarily on matters that “arise out of or are reasonably related to the lawyer’s practice in a jurisdiction to which the lawyer is admitted to practice.” Costas, an intellectual property and antitrust specialist at Hartford’s Pepe & Hazard, said it is critical for 12 to 15 states where multijurisdictional practice is a prevalent issue to lend guidance to ABA prior to the August meeting. By postponing action, “we are not putting Connecticut at the forefront of coming up with a solution to a problem” confronting many CBA members, he argued. Delegate Alan I. Scheer, of Pullman & Comley’s Hartford, Conn., office, also urged Bar leaders to take action. It is unfair, he said, to view UPL changes as the opening of barricades preventing New York law firms from advancing across state lines. “The issue is larger than that,” said Scheer. Local attorneys, he noted, risk losing corporate clients, as well, by having to refer them to out-of-state counsel. The majority of CBA delegates, however, felt that awaiting direction of the ABA was the more prudent course, and voted to table the matter to their next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 10. “Whether we like it or not, we are a trade association and we have to protect our members,” said CBA delegate John L. Bonee, one of a handful of Connecticut attorneys who will represent state or county bars at the ABA annual meeting in August. Though Bonee, of the Bonee Law Offices in Hartford, is keeping an open mind on the subject, he said he recognizes that more and more out-of-state firms “would just love” to slice up Connecticut’s legal market for themselves. A vote by either the ABA or the CBA would be purely advisory. In Connecticut, the state’s Superior Court judges have the final say on any rule changes.

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