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The New Jersey Supreme Court issued an administrative ruling Wednesday that will permit New Jersey bar-admitted attorneys without a bona fide office in the state to practice law there. With its ruling, the court decided to adopt the recommendation of its own Ad Hoc Committee on Bar Admissions, known as the Wallace Committee, and to suspend Rule 1:21-1(a) for a three-year trial period. Previously, New Jersey’s “bona fide office rule” prohibited otherwise eligible lawyers from handling business in the state unless they established in New Jersey a staffed office that received mail and stored files, as opposed to using an empty office or answering service to practice in the state. The Wallace Committee, named for its chairman, Appellate Division Judge John E. Wallace Jr., recommended that the office requirement be “eliminated altogether,” saying that the rule is “practically unique” compared to other states’ guidelines, the court’s finding quoted the committee as reporting. “The requirement that a lawyer maintain a bona fide office in New Jersey does not recognize that technology, when used effectively, can substitute for proximity,” the committee reported to the court, “and that a lawyer’s office in Delaware, Pennsylvania, or New York may be just as accessible by such means as an office in New Jersey.” New York bar association leaders welcomed the move by New Jersey’s highest court. “I think the change is a good one,” said A. Thomas Levin, president of the New York State Bar Association. The requirement that out-of-state lawyers maintain an “office of convenience” in New Jersey is a real burden, he said, adding, “The modern ways of doing business make the rule unnecessary.” E. Leo Milonas, president of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, concurred, describing the ruling as a “common sense move by the court in a very logical direction.” “I applaud the New Jersey court,” he said. The New Jersey Supreme Court, in its ruling titled Administrative Determinations in Response to the Report and Recommendation of the Ad Hoc Committee on Bar Admissions, ordered the state Administrative Office of the Courts to evaluate the side effects of the elimination of the rule three years after the new policy goes into effect on Jan. 1. Levin predicted smooth sailing. “I don’t think this rule is going to hurt anyone,” he said. “It’s simply going to make [New York] lawyers available to their clients with New Jersey matters. New Jersey still retains all regulatory authority.” Practitioners were also happy to hear of the rule’s demise. David Jaroslawicz, a New York-based lawyer who sued the New Jersey Supreme Court for the right to practice in the state without a local office, said he was pleased the court finally scuttled what he described as a “ridiculous rule.” The rationale that it is more difficult for clients and the courts to access New York and Philadelphia lawyers is “nonsense,” he said. “My office in downtown Manhattan is closer to the Newark courts than a lawyer with an office in Cape May.” “What the rule really is about is economics,” said Jaroslawicz, who ultimately lost his case in a 1997 decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Tolchin v. Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey, 111 F.3d 1099. “The only point is to keep New York and Philadelphia lawyers out of New Jersey. It’s just meant to stifle competition.” But that concern is a red herring, he said: “Most of my work in New Jersey is for a New York client with a New Jersey matter.” “I’m glad they’ve finally seen the light,” Jaroslawicz said. NEW JERSEY STATE BAR For its part, the New Jersey State Bar Association, which supported the bona fide office rule, expressed disappointment at the court’s decision. “We remain concerned that the new rule will have an adverse impact on the ability of the New Jersey public to obtain quality legal representation from lawyers who are familiar with the customs of New Jersey practice, who are available to meet with clients at a convenient location, and who are accountable not just to clients but to their community and the courts,” a statement from New Jersey State Bar President Karol Corbin Walker said. But one New Jersey attorney said the court’s decision was reasonable. “I think that it’s a good idea to try to see how [eliminating the requirement] works,” said John L. Kraft, a municipal bond lawyer who represented the New Jersey State Bar before the state Supreme Court in a successful bid to block non-New Jersey lawyers from handling municipal bond transactions within the state. “I have believed all along that New Jersey-admitted attorneys whose offices may be in Philadelphia or New York shouldn’t be prohibited from practicing here by the bona fide office rule,” he said.

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