A recent ethics opinion from the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility, Formal Opinion 498 examines the professional responsibility issues that are involved in operating a virtual law practice. In this article we will discuss the principal conclusions in the Opinion, and the lessons it, and NY City Bar Formal Opinion 2019-2 on the same topic, hold for New York lawyers.
Opinion 498 defines virtual practice as “technologically enabled law practice beyond the traditional brick-and-mortar law firm.” Importantly (although relegated to a footnote), the Opinion does not address the unauthorized practice of law issues that may arise if the virtual practice is being conducted from a jurisdiction where the lawyer or lawyers are not admitted. Rather, the Opinion cites with approval ABA Comm. on Ethics & Prof’l Responsibility, Formal Op. 495 (2020), stating that “[l]awyers may remotely practice the law of the jurisdictions in which they are licensed while physically present in a jurisdiction in which they are not admitted if the local jurisdiction has not determined that the conduct is the unlicensed or unauthorized practice of law and if they do not hold themselves out as being licensed to practice in the local jurisdiction, do not advertise or otherwise hold out as having an office in the local jurisdiction, and do not provide or offer to provide legal services in the local jurisdiction.”