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There is pending before the Supreme Court of New Jersey a petition by JAMS, an organization which provides alternative dispute resolution services, to declare its lawyer and retired judge members exempt from complying with certain rules applicable to practicing attorneys such as having to maintain operating and trust accounts and registering with New Jersey’s IOLTA program. JAMS also seeks a ruling that lawyers and retired judges may carry out their services in a non-law office setting. The basis for the petition is the contention that the organization does not provide legal services nor enter into attorney-client relationships, notwithstanding that many of the members are in fact attorneys or retired judges. JAMS’ position is that it should be allowed to open an office for its ADR services in New Jersey, which office would be used by the lawyers and retired judges whom they designate as neutrals. Seemingly implicit in its petition, although not expressed in so many words, is the desire of JAMS to be able to share in the fees received by its personnel. Under present regulations in New Jersey, such would constitute practicing law without a license and would be proscribed.

JAMS initiated this matter in a letter to the Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics (directed also to the Committee on Attorney Advertising and the Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law) in August 2016. On May 1, 2017, the committee responded with an opinion concluding that lawyers and retired judges who offer third-party neutral services as arbitrators or mediators nonetheless are engaged in the practice of law and must therefore abide by the pertinent court rules and rules of professional conduct. JAMS then filed a petition with the Supreme Court of New Jersey seeking an order permitting the operation of an office in New Jersey, free of the constraints upon lawyers referenced by the Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics.

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