Opinion 2003-12

(November 2003)


The inquirer asks whether or not an individual, who is admitted to practice in a foreign country as an attorney, counselor at law, or the equivalent, may be certified as a foreign legal consultant in the State of Pennsylvania and allowed to render legal services limited to those regarding the law of the foreign country in which such individual is admitted to practice as an attorney.  The inquirer notes that such certifications are available in other states such as Florida.  In addition, the inquirer asks whether an individual, not licensed as an attorney can perform the following functions as a "legal consultant" in Pennsylvania:


1. Assisting a lawyer in briefing and educating alien clients about problems/issues concerning their status on personal and family relations based on the laws pertaining to foreign jurisdiction, pursuant to complying with certain requirements for their immigration petitions;


2. Serving as a team resource having the benefit of attorney supervision and guidance;


3. Managing a team of legal/administrative staff; monitoring a large NIV volume caseload; supervising casework to ensure consistent quality and timely completion; liaising with corporate clients regarding case processing; delegating client requests to appropriate staff; reviewing and preparing petitions, appeals, briefs, motions for attorney review; preparing responses to multiple complex requests for evidence; preparing petitions as necessary; running reports for team and client.


In response to the inquirer's overall question regarding certification of foreign legal consultants, the Committee advises that Pennsylvania has not adopted any rules regarding certification of foreign legal consultants, and that as such, without admission to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, such individuals are not considered to be attorneys in the state and are not permitted to function as such.


The Committee is unclear what the specific duties involved would be with "serving as a team resource" whether with or without attorney supervision, and as such can not comment on this aspect of your inquiry.


Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 5.5(a) provides that:


A lawyer shall not:


(a) aid a non-lawyer in the unauthorized practice of law.


It is the Committee's opinion that many of the specific duties described as those which would be undertaken by the "legal consultant" clearly constitute the practice of law, and that the inquirer would be violating Rule 5.5(a) to allow the "legal consultant" to independently perform those functions.


Specifically, although an individual (whether or not admitted as an attorney in a foreign county) may be knowledgeable about laws in that county, advising clients on how those laws interact with the requirements for immigration petitions under United States laws clearly constitutes the practice of law.


In addition, it is clear that the duties outlined in the third and last set of responsibilities represent substantive legal work involving the interpretation of laws, case management and direction, and that enabling this conduct, without significant and ongoing supervision by a Pennsylvania admitted attorney in all its aspects, not just drafting of documents, would be unethical and in violation of Rule 5.5(a).


In conclusion, the Committee advises that there may be regulations affecting administrative representation before the INS which may explicitly permit some of the above functions by non-attorneys. The extent of such allowable functions, if any, is beyond the scope of this opinion, but the inquirer is directed to review any applicable federal and/or administrative rules.




The Philadelphia Bar Association's Professional Guidance Committee provides, upon request, advice for lawyers facing or anticipating facing ethical dilemmas. Advice is based on the consideration of the facts of the particular inquirer's situation and the Rules of Professional Conduct as promulgated by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The Committee's opinions are advisory only and are based upon the facts set forth. The opinions are not binding upon the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania or any other Court. They carry only such weight as an appropriate reviewing authority may choose to give it.