The Unauthorized Practice of Law in Rhode Island, 0620 SCBJ, RIBJ, 68 RI Bar J., No. 6, Pg. 15

AuthorChristopher S. Gontarz, Esq.
PositionVol. 68 6 Pg. 15

The Unauthorized Practice of Law in Rhode Island

No. Vol. 68 No. 6 Pg. 15

Rhode Island Bar Journal

June, 2020

May, 2020

Christopher S. Gontarz, Esq.

With the proliferation of and wide availability of technology with wireless internet access, attorneys can practice law anywhere they can connect to the internet. Rhode Island rules focus on the place that the legal work is performed, rather than the nature of the work performed. The “Court recognizes full well that the practice of law under modern conditions consists in no small part of work performed outside of any court and having no immediate relation to proceedings in court.”[1] It is the unauthorized practice of law when an attorney without a Rhode Island license, whose office is in Rhode Island and whose practice is exclusive to representing clients in the state they are licensed in, engages in any legal work related to that practice in RI. Regardless of disclaimers made on business documents, they are in violation of the Unauthorized Practice of Law rule and the statute in Rhode Island, and probably in violation of rules of professional conduct in the state they are admitted. The Rhode Island Supreme Court has “the ultimate and exclusive authority to determine what does and does not constitute the practice of law within the state and to regulate those people qualified to engage in the practice of law.”[2] The Court has articulated that the practice of law includes “the giving of legal advice on a large variety of subjects, and the preparation and execution of legal instruments covering an extensive field of business and trust relations and other affairs, and great capacity for adaptation to difficult and complex situations.”[3]

The practice of law in Rhode Island is defined in R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-27-12 and the Supreme Court Rules of Professional Conduct, Article V, Rule 5.5, Unauthorized practice of law; Multi-jurisdictional practice of law. “The main purpose of reserving the practice of law to lawyers duly licensed by the Court is to ‘ensure that the public welfare will be served and promoted’ and prevent ‘irreparable injury to the people by the unwarranted intrusion of unauthorized and unskilled persons in the practice of law.’”[4] This begs the question though, what interest does Rhode Island have in preventing someone from using a Rhode

Island office in their legal practice that only affects another state?

The American Law Institute addressed the unauthorized practice of law in the Restatement of Law, The Law Governing Lawyers, Vol. 1, § 3, “a lawyer currently admitted to practice in a jurisdiction may provide legal services to a client: (1) At any place within the admitting jurisdiction;

(2) Before a tribunal or administrative agency of another jurisdiction or the federal government in compliance with requirements for temporary or regular admission to practice before that tribunal or agency; and

(3) At a place within the jurisdiction in which the lawyer is not admitted to the extent that the lawyer’s activities...

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