Opinion 91-36
(December 1991)

You have asked for an opinion on the following facts: Short of filing or defending a suit in a foreign jurisdiction, can a Pennsylvania lawyer represent clients residing in a foreign state in matters over which the foreign state's court would have exclusive jurisdiction?

Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 5.5(b) provides:

A lawyer shall not:

(b) practice law in a jurisdiction where to do so would be in violation of regulations of the profession in that jurisdiction.

Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1 provides that a lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation necessary for the representation.

There is nothing uncommon about an attorney licensed in and located in Pennsylvania dealing with cases that arise under the statutes of various other states. Provided an attorney is competent to handle such matters and thus is in compliance with Rule 1. 1, the remaining question is whether such activity would constitute the unauthorized practice of law in Pennsylvania and/or the foreign jurisdiction.

The Committee notes that you have not specifically delineated in your request those specific tasks that you plan to undertake as regards this representation. As such it is difficult for the Committee to specifically advise you of what would be permissible and what would not. With this caveat, should the representation of the clients in your scenario be undertaken by an attorney working out of Pennsylvania, there does not appear to be an unauthorized practice of law problem in Pennsylvania which would prevent you from handling this matter. However, each jurisdiction defines the unauthorized practice of law differently, and the Committee urges you to determine whether the activity you are contemplating would violate the unauthorized practice of law prohibition in the foreign jurisdiction. If it does indeed violate that prohibition, then you as a Pennsylvania attorney would be in violation of Rule 5.5b.

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.