Partnership With Foreign Lawyer
A lawyer who is licensed
to practice in the District of Columbia may join in a partnership or
in other forms of professional association with a foreign lawyer who
is not licensed to practice in any jurisdiction in the United States
so long as the partnership or association will not compromise the D.C.
lawyer’s ability to uphold ethical standards.
- Rule 5.1 (Responsibilities of a Partner or Supervisory Lawyer)
5.5 (Unauthorized Practice of Law)
- Rule 7.5(b) (Firm Names and Letterhead)
- Rule 7.5(d) (Implying Practice
in a Partnership)
A member of the D.C. Bar inquires whether,
under the D.C. Rules of Professional
he and other members of his firm may join in a partnership to practice
law with a lawyer licensed to practice law only in Sweden. The lawyer
licensed in Sweden will be resident and practicing in the firm’s
London office, which, the inquiry asserts, the lawyer may do in accordance
with the rules of practice governing the provision of legal services
in the United Kingdom.
This inquiry requires us to determine whether
a member of the D.C. Bar may practice law in a partnership or other
form of professional association with a foreign lawyer who is licensed
practice law in a non-U.S. jurisdiction but is not licensed to practice
law in any jurisdiction in the United States.
In the United
States multi-jurisdictional law firm partnerships—formed by
attorneys licensed to practice and physically located in more than
one state—are accepted without question. As the practice of
law increasingly assumes
an international dimension, it is becoming equally commonplace to
encounter multinational law firm partnerships and other forms of
that cross international borders. Because of their international
scope, these partnerships may involve affiliations with attorneys
by jurisdictions outside the United States.
Just as our ethical standards
have evolved to permit multi-jurisdictional law partnerships involving
U.S. lawyers, they also, with appropriate safeguards, similarly accommodate
partnerships or other forms of professional association with foreign
lawyers. For the reasons explained below, we conclude that members
of the D.C. Bar may practice law in partnership with foreign lawyers
are not licensed in any jurisdiction in the United States so long
as appropriate steps are taken to ensure the association will not
the D.C. Bar member’s ability to uphold ethical standards.1
this jurisdiction, we have long accepted, without ever expressly
the issue, the existence of partnerships between D.C. Bar members
and attorneys who are admitted only in U.S. jurisdictions other than
Such associations are permissible, however, only to the extent that
they do not impair the D.C. Bar member’s ability and obligation
to uphold ethical standards. For example, when a D.C. lawyer practices
law in association
with others, he or she must ensure that all individuals involved
in providing legal services adhere to fundamental ethical requirements
such as client
confidentiality. See, e.g., Rules 5.1, 5.2, 5.3.
The same considerations
are equally applicable in reviewing the ethical implications of partnerships
with foreign attorneys who are not licensed to practice in any U.S.
jurisdiction.2 The critical inquiry will be whether any aspect
of the association
is likely to impair the D.C. attorney’s ability to satisfy
the applicable ethical requirements that govern the delivery of legal
In this regard, it would be necessary to consider
the general similarity of the foreign lawyer’s educational requirements
as well as the compatibility of the standards of professional conduct
that govern the foreign lawyer’s provision of legal services.
If the foreign lawyer’s education and training were materially
less than that of a U.S. lawyer or if the professional standards
the foreign lawyer’s conduct were so incompatible with those
established by the D.C. Bar, any partnership with such an attorney
might impair the
D.C. lawyer’s ability to uphold the D.C. Rules of Professional
Conduct or to adhere to ethical standards such as the need to maintain
client confidentiality and to avoid conflicts of interest. Cf. Rule
5.1(a) (law firm partner “shall make reasonable efforts to
ensure that the firm has in effect measures giving reasonable assurance
lawyers in the firm conform to the rules of professional conduct”).
is an inquiry that must be undertaken on a case by case basis. By
identifying issues relating to client confidentiality and conflicts
interest as areas of special concern, we do not mean to suggest that
these are the only ethical issues that need to be considered. Rather,
the D.C. attorney must ensure that the proposed association does
not in any way impair or frustrate his ability to meet his ethical
Another basic requirement that must be satisfied
in forming any professional association with a foreign licensed attorney is that
not conflict with any of the D.C. attorney’s ethical obligations.
Lawyers not admitted to practice in the District of Columbia are,
subject to restrictions against the unauthorized practice of law
in this jurisdiction (D.C. App. R. 49), and Rule 5.5(b) prohibits
from assisting a person who is not a member of the bar in the performance
of an activity constituting the unauthorized practice of law. Any
partnership with a foreign attorney must comply with these obligations.
addition, D.C. lawyers and law firms must continue to satisfy the
relating to use of letterheads and firm names. See Rule 7.5(b) (“a
law firm with offices in more than one jurisdiction may use the same
name in each jurisdiction, but identification of the lawyers in an
office of the firm shall indicate the jurisdictional limitations
on those not
licensed to practice in the jurisdiction where the office is located.”).
Thus, like any multi-jurisdictional partnership, a partnership with
foreign attorneys must ensure that its letterhead identifies appropriately
jurisdictions in which individual attorneys are licensed to practice.
members of the D.C. Bar may state or imply that they practice in
a partnership or other organization only when that is the fact.
Rule 7.5(d). In forming a partnership with a foreign attorney, the
should confirm, both as a matter of U.S. and foreign law, that the
relationship created is properly described and held out to clients.
reaching the conclusion that a D.C. lawyer may join in a partnership or other
form of professional association with a foreign lawyer not licensed
in any jurisdiction in the United States so long as the partnership
or association will not compromise the D.C. lawyer’s ability
to uphold ethical standards, we join several other jurisdictions
that have considered
similar issues and reached the same result. See, e.g., N.Y. State
Op. 658 (Jan. 24, 1997) (lawyer may form partnership or otherwise
with non-Utah lawyers who are authorized to practice law in other
jurisdictions within the United States or to engage in the functional
a foreign country). We are aware of no jurisdiction that has concluded
Inquiry No. 97-7-33
Adopted: February 18, 1998
assumes without deciding that the proposed arrangement described
in the inquiry complies with all aspects of D.C. substantive
law and with
applicable Swedish and United Kingdom law and ethical rules; it
therefore addresses only the ethical issues under the D.C. Rules
Conduct presented by the proposed arrangement.
- course, a foreign
attorney who also is admitted to practice in one or more U.S. jurisdictions
subject to the supervisory authority and disciplinary system
of the U.S. jurisdiction(s) in which he is admitted. Because of this
is unnecessary to consider such attorneys as “foreign” lawyers
for purposes of this analysis.