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As hundreds of displaced Louisiana lawyers stream across the state line into Texas to rebuild their practices and lives in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the last thing they need is the Texas Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee breathing down their necks. UPLC officials and the State Bar of Texas realize that. So leaders from both groups recently consulted with the Texas Supreme Court about how to handle the influx of out-of-state lawyers into the Lone Star State. On Sept. 2, the high court quickly issued a one-paragraph order that allows displaced lawyers holding law licenses from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to practice in Texas for a period of 30 days without fear of reprisal from the UPLC. “Normally a lawyer who’s not licensed in Texas who comes into Texas to practice would need to be licensed,” says Texas Supreme Court Justice Dale Wainwright, who serves as the court’s liaison to the State Bar of Texas. “But the order suspends that.” “What we’re doing is helping people who have been affected by an incredible disaster and at the same time keeping an eye on the integrity of the bar as well,” Wainwright says. The order is a temporary measure at best. Many of the 7,500 lawyers who’ve left New Orleans expect that it will be months before they can return to their offices; the city is expected to be without electricity or water services for a long time. Carolyn Dineen King, chief judge of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has said the same thing. On Sept. 2 she announced that her court was relocating operations to the Bob Casey U.S. Courthouse in Houston for now. UPLC and Bar officials anticipate that the Texas Supreme Court will need to revisit licensing issues for out-of-state attorneys displaced by the hurricane within the coming weeks. “To the extent that they’re evacuated over here and are trying by phone or fax to contact clients and to address their caseload … that doesn’t give me much problem at all,” says Rodney Gilstrap, chairman of the UPLC and a partner in Marshall’s Smith & Gilstrap. But other concerns will arise the longer displaced lawyers stay in Texas, Gilstrap says. “If they remain in Texas over a longer period of time, then there’s the likelihood that someone down the street is going to say, ‘I got a speeding ticket. Can you represent me?’ That’s going to happen,” Gilstrap says. “I don’t view it as an immediate problem.” Other southern states are making plans to temporarily suspend bar licensing requirements, says Kelly Frels, chairman of the State Bar of Texas’ Katrina Relief Task Force and a partner in Houston’s Bracewell & Giuliani. In the meantime, Frels say the State Bar is answering other basic questions from displaced lawyers beyond helping them find office and living space. “We’ve had questions such as, ‘What should I put on my Web site about where I am?’ ” Frels says. “ And we’ve told them to say that they are ‘temporarily practicing in Texas’ so that they’re not advertising that they’re Texas lawyers.” The State Bar has specific and complicated rules that govern lawyers who advertise in Texas. But Frels expects that the term “temporarily practicing in Texas” will become an increasingly inaccurate moniker as months pass. “It looks like it’s going to be a long-term situation for many people. And I suspect some lawyers are going to stay here,” Frels says. “And it’s an issue for the Board of Law Examiners to look at down the road.” HERE TO STAY? Julia Vaughan, executive director of the Board of Law Examiners, says the board has called a special meeting for Sept. 16 to address those very questions. Texas has a fairly liberal reciprocity policy that allows experienced attorneys — lawyers who have had an active law practice for five of the past seven years — to obtain a Texas law license without taking the Texas bar exam. Vaughn encourages displaced lawyers with that required experience level to apply for a Texas law license as soon as possible. Vaughn says displaced lawyers can learn more about applying for a Texas law license by visiting the Texas Board of Law Examiners, which also provides information regarding pro hac vice rules for displaced lawyers who want to make appearances for clients litigating in Texas courts. Wainwright expects that more than a few of the displaced lawyers may discover that practicing law in Texas is an attractive proposition and may stay for that reason. “Texas is a nice place to be and a nice place to practice law,” Wainwright says. “So we’ve got to look at the rules for that” reason.

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