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Proponents of relaxing restraints on multijurisdictional practice had the momentum going into what was the most politically charged gathering of the Connecticut Bar Association’s policymaking body in recent memory last week. The controversial proposal to allow out-of-state lawyers a limited ability to practice in Connecticut without a state law license — providing the lawyers’ home states extended similar privileges to Connecticut attorneys — had survived close votes before key CBA sections and committees. Its seemingly tireless backer, Peter L. Costas, and his marathon lobbying campaign had the enthusiastic support of CBA President John W. Hogan Jr. And just hours before the House of Delegate’s Jan. 12 vote, the measure secured the blessing of the Hartford County Bar Association’s leadership to go along with an earlier endorsement by the New Haven County Bar Association. But even that combined punch couldn’t topple opposing forces who stuck to their view that loosening the state’s unauthorized practice of law rules would benefit a minority of Connecticut lawyers with practices that regularly cross state borders at the expense of the rest of the State Bar, which would be left vulnerable to aggressive New York and Boston firms looking to make further inroads into the state’s legal market. The measure failed 28-18, after many impassioned pleas for and against change — and much behind-the-scenes politicking before the meeting got underway. Lawyers on both sides of the debate were surprised the vote wasn’t closer than it was. “There are too many lawyers who still believe we can practice law like we did in the early 1900s,” a clearly disappointed Costas said in a later interview. Maintaining the status quo, said Costas, who chaired the CBA’s Task Force on Multijurisdictional Practice, won’t stop out-of-state lawyers from encroaching on the state’s legal market since current UPL laws are rarely enforced. The changes his task force had recommended actually would have created a mechanism for state grievance officials to police lawyers not licensed here, he maintained. Under the proposal to modify Rule 5.5 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, attorneys not admitted in Connecticut would be able to provide legal services in the state for their existing clients only, providing the lawyers were from a jurisdiction that grants Connecticut lawyers a similar safe harbor to practice there. In an attempt to appease opponents, the recommended language was recently altered to restrict out-of-state lawyers without a Connecticut law license from working in the state on matters other than those that arise out of or are “reasonably related” to legal services they are already providing to an existing client in the lawyers’ home jurisdiction. The proposal would subject unadmitted attorneys practicing in Connecticut on a temporary basis to local lawyer discipline rules with respect to their activities in Connecticut. Bridgeport litigator and longtime CBA delegate James O. Gaston, who spearheaded the effort to defeat the measure, said the latter safeguard would be of little consequence since Connecticut grievance officials would have no power to sanction locally unadmitted lawyers in the states where they are licensed. Connecticut officials could recommend disbarment or a lesser punishment, but the grievance body in the lawyer’s home jurisdiction would be under no obligation to follow that recommendation, Gaston said. Gaston called the added language preventing unadmitted lawyers from providing legal services in Connecticut unrelated to an existing matter a “very minor” adjustment. “It’s still an open-door policy,” he said of the failed measure. At least some delegates who were seemingly on the fence voted the proposal down out of concern that the bar association would lose members if it supported a measure a large segment of its membership was against. Former CBA President William F. Gallagher said doing so would go against a longstanding policy not to endorse a proposal opposed by one or more of its sections. The measure was shot down by the CBA’s real property section by more than a 3-to-1 margin. In a Jan. 6 letter to Hogan, Gregory J. Cava, chairman of the section’s executive committee, said many section members viewed attempts to relax UPL rules as “little more than a thinly disguised effort by multi-state law firms and their national clients to avoid the inconveniences of licensing.” “Connecticut is a high-cost state. Competition from lawyers in low-overhead states makes the practice of law a race for the bottom we cannot win,” wrote Cava, of Zeldes, Needle & Cooper in Bridgeport. “Having built reputable practices, can our members afford the inevitable reduction in compensation they will have to absorb to remain competitive with the bottom fishers from 49 other states?” For some other sections that endorsed the proposal, the vote was hardly unanimous. Gaston said the chair of the litigation section had to break a tie vote. The CBA’s professional ethics committee, meanwhile, initially voted 20-18 against the measure last January, but reversed itself by a similarly narrow margin when the matter was reconsidered in November. That a new vote was taken so soon after its initial defeat rankled some members who preach that the ethics committee should operate above politics. At the Jan. 6 meeting, Hogan, of counsel to Milford, Conn.’s Berchem, Moses & Devlin, defended the ability of the House of Delegates to proceed with the vote. He said the policy requiring the approval of all CBA sections only applies to legislation the organization is lobbying on behalf of, not practice rules, which Superior Court judges have the final say on. Though the CBA in recent years has been hesitant to take stances on politically divisive social issues, Hogan, in an interview, said the matter of multijurisdictional practice is one the organization cannot be silent on since it profoundly impacts the practice of law.

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