Revised Rules

Print rule

Back to revised rule search

<< Previous Rule
Next Rule >>


Law Firms and Associations

Rule 5.5 Unauthorized Practice of Law

(a) A lawyer shall not practice law in a jurisdiction where doing so violates the regulation of the legal profession in that jurisdiction.

(b) A lawyer who is not admitted to practice in this jurisdiction shall not:


(1) except as authorized by these Rules or other law, establish an office or other systematic and continuous presence in this jurisdiction for the practice of law; or

(2) hold out to the public or otherwise represent that the lawyer is admitted to practice law in this jurisdiction.


(c) A lawyer admitted to practice in another jurisdiction, but not in this jurisdiction, does not engage in the unauthorized practice of law in this jurisdiction if the lawyer's conduct is in accordance with these Rules and:


(1) the lawyer is authorized by law or order to appear before a tribunal or administrative agency in this jurisdiction or is preparing for a potential proceeding or hearing in which the lawyer reasonably expects to be so authorized; or

(2) other than engaging in conduct governed by paragraph (1):


(A) the lawyer provides legal services to the lawyer's employer or its organizational affiliates and the services are not services for which pro hac vice admission is required; a lawyer acting pursuant to this paragraph is not subject to the prohibition in Paragraph (b)(1);

(B) the lawyer acts with respect to a matter that arises out of or is otherwise reasonably related to the lawyer's representation of a client in a jurisdiction in which the lawyer is admitted to practice;

(C) the lawyer acts with respect to a matter that is in or is reasonably related to a pending or potential arbitration, mediation, or other alternative dispute resolution proceeding in this or another jurisdiction, if the services arise out of or are reasonably related to the lawyer's representation of a client in a jurisdiction in which the lawyer is admitted to practice and are not services for which pro hac vice admission is required;

(D) the lawyer is associated in the matter with a lawyer admitted to practice in this jurisdiction who actively participates in the representation; or

(E) the lawyer is providing services limited to federal law, international law, the law of a foreign jurisdiction or the law of the jurisdiction in which the lawyer is admitted to practice.


(F) the lawyer is the subject of a pending application for admission to the North Carolina State Bar by comity, having never previously been denied admission to the North Carolina State Bar for any reason, and


(i) is licensed to practice law in a state with which North Carolina has comity in regard to admission to practice law;


(ii) is a member in good standing in every jurisdiction in which the lawyer is licensed to practice law;


(iii) has satisfied the educational and experiential requirements prerequisite to comity admission to the North Carolina State Bar;


(iv) is domiciled in North Carolina;


(v) has established a professional relationship with a North Carolina law firm and is actively supervised by at least one licensed North Carolina attorney affiliated with that law firm; and


(vi) gives written notice to the secretary of the North Carolina State Bar that the lawyer intends to begin the practice of law pursuant to this provision, provides the secretary with a copy of the lawyer’s application for admission to the State Bar, and agrees that the lawyer is subject to these rules and the disciplinary jurisdiction of the North Carolina State Bar. A lawyer acting pursuant to this provision is not subject to the prohibition in Paragraph (b) (1), may not provide services for which pro hac vice admission is required, and shall be ineligible to practice law in this jurisdiction immediately upon being advised that the lawyer’s application for comity admission has been denied.


(d) A lawyer shall not assist another person in the unauthorized practice of law.

(e) A lawyer or law firm shall not employ a disbarred or suspended lawyer as a law clerk or legal assistant if that individual was associated with such lawyer or law firm at any time on or after the date of the acts which resulted in disbarment or suspension through and including the effective date of disbarment or suspension.

(f) A lawyer or law firm employing a disbarred or suspended lawyer as a law clerk or legal assistant shall not represent any client represented by the disbarred or suspended lawyer or by any lawyer with whom the disbarred or suspended lawyer practiced during the period on or after the date of the acts which resulted in disbarment or suspension through and including the effective date of disbarment or suspension.

Comment

[1] A lawyer may regularly practice law only in a jurisdiction in which the lawyer is admitted to practice. The practice of law in violation of lawyer-licensing standards of another jurisdiction constitutes a violation of these Rules. This Rule does not restrict the ability of lawyers authorized by federal statute or other federal law to represent the interests of the United States or other persons in any jurisdiction.

[2] There are occasions in which lawyers admitted to practice in another jurisdiction, but not in this jurisdiction, will engage in conduct in this jurisdiction under circumstances that do not create significant risk to the interests of their clients, the courts or the public. Paragraph (c) identifies six situations in which the lawyer may engage in such conduct without fear of violating this Rule. All such conduct is subject to the duty of competent representation. See Rule 1.1. Rule 5.5 does not address the question of whether other conduct constitutes the unauthorized practice of law. The fact that conduct is not included or described in this Rule is not intended to imply that such conduct is the unauthorized practice of law. With the exception of paragraph (c)(2)(A) and (F), nothing in this Rule is intended to authorize a lawyer to establish an office or other systematic and continuous presence in this jurisdiction without being admitted to practice here. Presence may be systematic and continuous even if the lawyer is not physically present in this jurisdiction. Such a lawyer must not hold out to the public or otherwise represent that the lawyer is admitted to practice law in this jurisdiction. See also Rules 7.1(a) and 7.5(b). However, a lawyer admitted to practice in another jurisdiction who is partner, shareholder or employee of an interstate or international law firm that is registered with the North Carolina State Bar pursuant to 27 N.C.A.C. 1E, Section .0200, may practice, subject to the limitations of this Rule, in the North Carolina offices of such law firm.

[3] Lawyers not admitted to practice generally in the jurisdiction may be authorized by law or order of a tribunal or an administrative agency to appear before a the tribunal or agency. Such authority may be granted pursuant to formal rules governing admission pro hac vice or pursuant to informal practice of the tribunal or agency. Under paragraph (b)(1), a lawyer does not violate this Rule when the lawyer appears before such a tribunal or agency. Nor does a lawyer violate this Rule when the lawyer engages in conduct in anticipation of a proceeding or hearing, such as factual investigations and discovery conducted in connection with a litigation or administrative proceeding, in which an out-of-state lawyer has been admitted or in which the lawyer reasonably expects to be admitted. Nothing in paragraph (c)(1) is intended to authorize a lawyer not licensed in this jurisdiction to solicit clients in this jurisdiction.

[4] When lawyers appear or anticipate appearing before a tribunal or administrative agency with authority to admit the lawyer to practice pro hac vice, their conduct is governed by paragraphs (a) and (c)(1) and not by (c)(2). Paragraph (c)(2) authorizes a lawyer to engage in certain conduct other than making or preparing for appearances before such a tribunal. For example, paragraph (c)(2)(A) recognizes that some clients hire a lawyer as an employee in circumstances that may make it impractical for the lawyer to become admitted to practice in this jurisdiction. Given that these clients are unlikely to be deceived about the training and expertise of these lawyers, lawyers may act on behalf of such a client without violating this Rule. The lawyer may also act on behalf of the client's commonly owned organizational affiliates but only in connection with the client's matters.

[5] Paragraph (c)(2)(B) recognizes that the complexity of many matters requires that a lawyer whose representation of a client consists primarily of conduct in a jurisdiction in which the lawyer is admitted to practice, also be permitted to act on the client's behalf in other jurisdictions in matters arising out of or otherwise reasonably related to the lawyer's representation of the client. This conduct may involve negotiations with private parties, as well as negotiations with government officers or employees, and participation in alternative dispute-resolution procedures. This provision also applies when a lawyer is conducting witness interviews or other activities in this jurisdiction in preparation for a litigation or other proceeding that will occur in another jurisdiction where the lawyer is either admitted generally or expects to be admitted pro hac vice.

[6] Paragraph (c)(2)(C) permits a lawyer admitted to practice law in another jurisdiction to perform services on a temporary basis in this jurisdiction if those services are in or reasonably related to a pending or potential arbitration, mediation, or other alternative dispute resolution proceeding in this or another jurisdiction, if the services arise out of or are reasonably related to the lawyer's practice in a jurisdiction in which the lawyer is admitted to practice. The lawyer, however, must obtain admission pro hac vice in the case of a court-annexed arbitration or mediation or otherwise if court rules or law so require.

[7] Paragraph (c)(2)(D) recognizes that association with a lawyer licensed to practice in this jurisdiction is likely to protect the interests of both clients and the public. The lawyer admitted to practice in this jurisdiction, however, may not serve merely as a conduit for an out-of-state lawyer but must actively participate in and share actual responsibility for the representation of the client. If the admitted lawyer's involvement is merely pro forma, then both lawyers are subject to discipline under this Rule.

[8] Paragraph (c)(2)(F) permits a lawyer who is awaiting admission by comity to practice on a provisional and limited basis if certain requirements are met. As used in this paragraph, the term "professional relationship" refers to an employment or partnership arrangement.

[9] The definition of the practice of law is established by N.C.G.S. §84-2.1. Limiting the practice of law to members of the bar protects the public against rendition of legal services by unqualified persons. Paragraph (d) does not prohibit a lawyer from employing the services of paraprofessionals and delegating functions to them, so long as the lawyer supervises the delegated work and retains responsibility for their work. See Rule 5.3.

[10] Lawyers may also provide professional advice and instruction to nonlawyers whose employment requires knowledge of law; for example, claims adjusters, employees of financial or commercial institutions, social workers, accountants and persons employed in government agencies. In addition, a lawyer may counsel nonlawyers who wish to proceed pro se .

[11] In the absence of statutory prohibitions or specific conditions placed on a disbarred or suspended attorney in the order revoking or suspending the license, such individual may be hired to perform the services of a law clerk or legal assistant by a law firm with which he or she was not affiliated at the time of or after the acts resulting in discipline. Such employment is, however, subject to certain restrictions. A licensed attorney in the firm must take full responsibility for, and employ independent judgment in, adopting any research, investigative results, briefs, pleadings, or other documents or instruments drafted by such individual. The individual may not directly advise clients or communicate in person or in writing in such a way as to imply that he or she is acting as an attorney or in any way in which he or she seems to assume responsibility for a client's legal matters. The disbarred or suspended attorney should have no communications or dealings with, or on behalf of, clients represented by such disbarred or suspended attorneys or by any individual or group of individuals with whom he or she practiced during the period on or after the date of the acts which resulted in discipline through and including the effective date of the discipline. Further, the employing attorney or law firm should perform no services for clients represented by the disbarred or suspended attorney during such period. Care should be taken to ensure that clients fully understand that the disbarred or suspended attorney is not acting as an attorney, but merely as a law clerk or lay employee. Under some circumstances, as where the individual may be known to clients or in the community, it may be necessary to make an affirmative statement or disclosure concerning the disbarred or suspended attorney's status with the law firm. Additionally, a disbarred or suspended attorney should be paid on some fixed basis, such as a straight salary or hourly rate, rather than on the basis of fees generated or received in connection with particular matters on which he or she works. Under these circumstances, a law firm employing a disbarred or suspended attorney would not be acting unethically and would not be assisting a nonlawyer in the unauthorized practice of law.

[12] An attorney or law firm should not employ a disbarred or suspended attorney who was associated with such attorney or firm at any time on or after the date of the acts which resulted in the disbarment or suspension through and including the time of the disbarment or suspension. Such employment would show disrespect for the court or body which disbarred or suspended the attorney. Such employment would also be likely to be prejudicial to the administration of justice and would create an appearance of impropriety. It would also be practically impossible for the disciplined lawyer to confine himself or herself to activities not involving the actual practice of law if he or she were employed in his or her former office setting and obliged to deal with the same staff and clientele.

History Note: Statutory Authority G. 84-23

Adopted July 24, 1997

Amended March 1, 2003; November 16, 2006

ETHICS OPINION NOTES

CPR 19. House counsel for an insurance company may not represent an insured in prosecuting a subrogation claim.

CPR 325. House counsel of a savings and loan association may not represent a subsidiary of the savings and loan association acting as trustee for a deed of trust in foreclosure.

CPR 326. House counsel for an insurance company may not represent the insured in defense of a third party claim or in prosecution of a subrogation claim.

RPC 9. House counsel for a mortgage bank which originates loans but has no proprietary interest of its own may not represent borrowers or lenders in closing loans originated by his employer.

RPC 40. For the purposes of a real estate transaction, an attorney may, with proper notice to the borrower, represent only the lender, and the lender may prepare the closing documents. See also RPC 41.

RPC 114. Attorneys may give legal advice and drafting assistance to persons wishing to proceed pro se without appearing as counsel of record.

RPC 139. A lawyer may not sign an adoption petition prepared by an adoption agency as an accommodation to that agency without undertaking professional responsibility for the adoption proceeding.

RPC 151. Although a corporate insurer acting through its employees cannot practice law and appear on behalf of others, a lawyer who is a full-time employee of an insurance company may represent the company in an action where the company is a named party.

RPC 216. A lawyer may use the services of a nonlawyer independent contractor to search a title provided the nonlawyer is properly supervised by the lawyer.

98 Formal Ethics Opinion 7. Opinion rules that a law firm may employ a disbarred lawyer as a paralegal provided the firm accepts no new clients who were clients of the disbarred lawyer's former firm during the period of misconduct; however, a disbarred lawyer may not work as a paralegal at a firm where he was employed as a lawyer during the period of misconduct.

98 Formal Ethics Opinion 8. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not participate in a closing or sign a preliminary title opinion if, after reasonable inquiry, the lawyer believes that the title abstract or opinion was prepared by a nonlawyer without supervision by a licensed North Carolina lawyer.

99 Formal Ethics Opinion 6. Opinion examines the ownership of a title insurance agency by lawyers in North and South Carolina as well as the supervision of an independent paralegal.

2000 Formal Ethics Opinion 9. Opinion explores the situations in which a lawyer who is also a CPA may provide legal services and accounting services from the same office.

2000 Formal Ethics Opinion 10. Opinion rules that a lawyer may have a nonlawyer employee deliver a message to a court holding calendar call, if the lawyer is unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict with another court or for another legitimate reason.

2002 Formal Ethics Opinion 9. Opinion rules that a nonlawyer assistant supervised by a lawyer may identify to the client who is a party to such a transaction the documents to be executed with respect to the transaction, direct the client as to the correct place on each document to sign, and handle the disbursement of proceeds for a residential real estate transaction, even though the supervising lawyer is not physically present.

Authorized Practice Advisory Opinion 2002-1. The North Carolina State Bar has been requested to interpret the North Carolina unauthorized practice of law statutes (N.C. Gen. Stat. §§84-2.1 to 84-5) as they apply to residential real estate transactions. The State Bar issues the following authorized practice of law advisory opinion pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §84-37(f) after careful consideration and investigation. This opinion supersedes any prior opinions and decisions of any standing committee of the State Bar interpreting the unauthorized practice of law statutes to the extent those opinions and decisions are inconsistent with the conclusions expressed herein.

CASE NOTES

A licensed attorney who is a full-time employee of an insurance company may not ethically represent one of the company's insureds as counsel of record in an action brought by a third party for a claim covered by the terms of the insurance policy or appear as counsel of record for the insured in the prosecution of a subrogation claim for property damage. Gardner v. North Carolina State Bar, 316 N.C. 285, 341 S.E.2d 517 (1986).


Back to revised rule search

THE NORTH CAROLINA STATE BAR
217 E. Edenton Street • PO Box 25908 • Raleigh, NC 27611-5908 • 919.828.4620
Copyright North Carolina State Bar. All rights reserved.