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Bar officials and the local business community continue to hold out hope that the state judiciary will relieve in-house counsel not admitted in Connecticut from the potential threat of unauthorized practice of law violations. But after three years without progress, a Connecticut Bar Association advisory panel decided it could no longer put off taking a stance on the controversial issue. In a recent opinion letter, the Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law concluded that in-house counsel not licensed in the state are, indeed, barred from advising their employers on Connecticut law. In doing so, they risk being held in contempt of court, but are not subject to criminal penalties provided for under the state’s UPL statute, the panel determined. BAD FOR BUSINESS The opinion addresses a single inquiry, but underscores an infrequently mentioned reality borne out by conducting a Martindale-Hubbell search of corporate legal departments: A surprising number of in-house counsel — even some general counsel — working in Connecticut have never passed the state bar exam or applied to be admitted without examination. The latter option is open to Bar members in other jurisdictions that provide reciprocity to Connecticut attorneys wishing to be admitted there without taking that state’s bar exam. Among other requirements, out-of-state applicants have to submit affidavits from two Connecticut lawyers attesting to their moral character to be considered for local admission. “Even if you come from a state that has reciprocity, it still takes time to get admitted,” said Jack S. Kennedy, chairman of the CBA’s In-House Counsel Study Committee. Such burdens, said Kennedy, of Robinson & Cole’s Hartford office, run in conflict with the need for corporations with operations across the country to transfer in-house counsel between offices. “It doesn’t make sense, if they [in-house attorneys] are going to be stationed here for a year-and-a-half or two years, to go through that,” he maintained. Frank E. Rudewicz, president of the American Corporate Counsel Association’s Connecticut chapter, said the state’s current UPL rules are difficult, if not impossible, to obey since technically they apply to in-house counsel just visiting Connecticut on business no matter how short their stay. Though grievance officials often take a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to enforcing UPL laws, it is not uncommon for in-house lawyers to be hassled for past violations when they do apply for bar admission, lawyers say. Most companies these days do business on a national basis, said Rudewicz, senior managing director and counsel at the Hartford-based international investigative consulting firm Decision Strategies LLC. “They need legal services that cross these states and boundaries.” Zeldes, Needle & Cooper attorney David P. Atkins, a member of the CBA study committee who represents lawyers in licensing and disciplinary matters, said corporate counsel just “want to be good citizens. They don’t want to be violating Connecticut law,” he said. DOOR STILL OPEN Currently, at least 14 other states and the District of Columbia allow locally unadmitted in-house counsel to represent their employers there, upon certification or other authorization, according to the UPL committee decision. In January 2000, the CBA’s House of Delegates unanimously recommended that Connecticut adopt a similar “safe harbor” provision for corporate counsel. Under the proposed rule change submitted by the In-House Study Committee, in-housers only would be allowed to handle legal matters involving their corporations. They couldn’t set up their own private practice. Like other attorneys admitted in the state, they also would have to make annual payments to the client security fund, under the recommendation. Despite receiving broad support from the bar, the proposal has yet to win the blessings of the Rules Committee of the Superior Court, which must endorse rules changes before they are put to the state judiciary for a final vote. “The concern,” said Kennedy of the Rules Committee, “is we don’t want to have this be a loophole for a lot of other activities that are not contemplated.” “We are always cautious when it comes to licensing attorneys in this state,” added Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Peter T. Zarella, the committee’s chairman. “We move with great care in this area.” Zarella said the latest revised version of the proposal was submitted to the committee just a few weeks before its last meeting in May and there wasn’t enough time to consider it before the Superior Court judges’ annual meeting in June, where rules changes are typically put to a vote. A hearing on the recommendation will be held sometime in the fall, he promised. “I don’t think any options [on the issue] have been foreclosed,” Zarella said. Though it finds under the current rule that locally unadmitted in-house counsel are only permitted to do legal tasks “analogous to what a paralegal might do” with the supervision of a Connecticut lawyer, the opinion written by the bar association’s UPL committee recognizes that the debate is ongoing. “[T]he Committee,” it stated, “cannot opine unequivocally that a Connecticut court, by court rule or in a highly contested and well presented case will not find that locally unadmitted in-house counsel may provide legal services to the counsel’s sophisticated employer on matters concerning the employer’s affairs.”

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