Oklahoma Bar Journal

Work From Home Anywhere: Ethical Considerations in the Post-Pandemic Era of Virtual Lawyering

By Paige A. Masters

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If there is one thing the COVID-19 pandemic taught us, it was that people in many professions, ours included, could truly work from anywhere as long as they could access a reasonably reliable internet connection. For some, that might have been their kitchen table, the back porch, a makeshift office in a closet or, if they were lucky, a vacation home. Judging co-workers’ office spaces on a videoconference became “a thing.” My go-to was the front seat of my 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee, sitting in my driveway because it was the one place I was pretty sure my potty-training toddler would not appear on a Zoom meeting wearing only his PJ Masks Pull-Up (or less) or serenade participants on a conference call with his rendition of the musical theme to Paw Patrol. It would not have gotten me a high score on the Twitter account Room Rater, but it did bring me some much-needed peace and quiet.

It comes as no surprise then that even as COVID restrictions have lifted, lawyers worldwide have, as Roy Strom of Bloomberg Law put it, “ma[de] the hop from their cushy offices to a brave, new world” of “‘virtual,’ ‘hybrid,’ or ‘remote’ firms.”[1] According to Bloomberg’s report in October 2022, “At least 10 law firms [we]re operating office-free or office-lite business models” that offered lower overhead and, thus, “partners a bigger cut of the revenue.”[2] The Rules of Professional Conduct do not require that a lawyer has a “brick-and-mortar office.”[3] The pandemic, though, did not halt, relax or bring about changes in the ethics rules. And with the shift in virtual lawyering comes ethical concerns. This article touches on a few of those, focusing primarily on the unauthorized practice of law while also briefly addressing duties of competence and confidentiality and supervising the work of subordinate attorneys and nonlawyers.


The risk of engaging in the unauthorized practice of law in a state in which an attorney is not licensed is a principal concern of a mobile virtual practice, for not only can attorneys find themselves in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct, but they may also face criminal or civil liability.[4] Under Rule 5.5(b) of the Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct, “A lawyer who is not admitted to practice in this jurisdiction shall not: (1) … 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.”[5] “The definition of the practice of law is established by law and varies from one jurisdiction to another.”[6] “Presence may be systematic and continuous even if the lawyer is not physically present here.”[7] The purpose of the rule is to “protect[ ] the public against rendition of legal services by unqualified persons.”[8]

Though not guaranteed, lawyers are probably safe to work remotely from a state in which they are not licensed as long as their work is related to matters pending in the state in which they are licensed, or they are providing legal services to residents of the state in which they are licensed. Nine months into the pandemic, the ABA Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility issued a formal opinion, opining that “[l]awyers may remotely practice the law of the jurisdictions in which they are licensed while physically present in a jurisdiction in which they are not admitted … if they do not hold themselves out as being licensed to practice in the local jurisdiction, do not advertise or otherwise hold out as having an office in the local jurisdiction, and do not provide or offer to provide legal services in the local jurisdiction.”[9] In doing so, the committee reasoned that protecting the public from unqualified practitioners – the purpose of Rule 5.5 – “is not served by prohibiting a lawyer from practicing the law of a jurisdiction in which the lawyer is licensed, for clients with matters in that jurisdiction, if the lawyer is for all intents and purposes invisible as a lawyer to a local jurisdiction where the lawyer is physically located, but not licensed.”[10] The committee stopped short of giving attorneys the green light, qualifying its opinion that such practice is only permitted “if the local jurisdiction has not determined that the conduct is the unlicensed or unauthorized practice of law.”[11] While it does not appear an Oklahoma court or the Oklahoma Bar Association have addressed the issue, those states that have appear to be in agreement that remote practice alone does not raise concern. As the Utah State Bar recognized, “What interest does the Utah State Bar have in regulating an out-of-state lawyer’s practice for out-of-state clients simply because he has a private home in Utah? And the answer is the same – none.”[12]

But as with most conduct that implicates the unauthorized practice of law, what constitutes “the practice of law” is murky, and it is not hard to imagine a point at which an all-virtual practice could tread into unchartered waters unintentionally. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has declined to “define[ ] ‘practice of law’ to include specific acts,” noting instead that its “decisions definitely spell out the concept of the practice of law” as “the rendition of services requiring the knowledge and the application of legal principles and technique to serve the interests of another with his consent.”[13] “The ‘distinction between law practice and that which is not,’” the court reasoned, “may be determined only from a consideration of the acts of service performed in each case.”[14]

There can be little dispute that an attorney who drafts pleadings for a client is engaging in the practice of law.[15] The Oklahoma Supreme Court has concluded that attorneys who draft contracts or complete deeds[16] or negotiate a settlement agreement with an insurance company[17] are practicing law. But what about reviewing contracts? Analyzing and advising clients on routine legal issues? Or negotiating a debt? – all tasks that can be accomplished from afar.

Also up for debate is what is meant by a “systematic and continuous presence.” The Utah State Bar Ethics Advisory Committee observed, “It seems clear that the out-of-state attorney who lives in Utah but continues to handle cases for clients from the state where the attorney is licensed has not established an office or ‘other systematic and continuous presence for practicing law in [Utah] a jurisdiction in which the lawyer is not licensed.’” The sending of an email or two likely does not rise to that level either.[18] But what if an unlicensed lawyer’s contacts with a state go beyond that?

A leading case on interstate practice was handed down by the California Supreme Court in 1998, and despite the changes in technology that have transformed the legal practice in the last 25 years, the opinion still informs the issues practitioners are grappling with today. In Birbrower, Montalbano, Condon & Frank v. Superior Court, the California Supreme Court found a New York-based firm engaged in the unauthorized practice of law[19] when its attorneys, who were not licensed in the state, represented a California client in California to negotiate a settlement and prepare for arbitration.[20] The case came to the court as a dispute over the firm’s fee agreement with its client, ESQ Business Services Inc. (ESQ), which was a California corporation with its principal place of business in Santa Clara County.[21] The firm was engaged to represent it in a dispute against Tandem Computers Inc., a Delaware corporation related to software development and marketing.[22] The agreement between Tandem and ESQ provided that California law governed.[23]

In representing ESQ, the Birbrower attorneys “traveled to California on several occasions” and met with ESQ and its accountants there to “discuss[ ] … strategy for resolving the dispute” and make recommendations and give advice.[24] They also met with Tandem representatives “on four or five occasions” in California, demanding that Tandem pay ESQ millions of dollars.[25] In addition, firm attorneys traveled to California to interview potential arbitrators after they had filed a demand for arbitration with the San Francisco office of the American Arbitration Association.[26] They later returned to California to meet with ESQ, as well as Tandem attorneys, to discuss settlement and render legal advice to ESQ regarding the terms of the proposed settlement agreement.[27] The dispute eventually settled, but before it did, the firm modified its original fee arrangement from a contingency fee for one-third of all sums received by ESQ to a fixed fee, requiring ESQ to pay the firm over $1 million.[28]

On appeal, the California Supreme Court opined, “The practice of law ‘in California’ entails sufficient contact with the California client to render the nature of the legal service a clear legal representation.”[29] “In addition to a quantitative analysis,” the court observed, it “must consider the nature of the unlicensed lawyer’s activities in the state. Mere fortuitous or attenuated contacts will not sustain a finding that the unlicensed lawyer practiced law ‘in California.’ The primary inquiry is whether the unlicensed lawyer engaged in sufficient activities in the state, or created a continuing relationship with the California client that included legal duties and obligations.”[30]

To the California Supreme Court, physical presence is not determinative but only one factor to be considered.[31] The court observed that an attorney could still practice law in the state in violation of the unauthorized practice of law statute by “advising a California client on California law in connection with a California legal dispute by telephone, fax, computer, or other modern technological means.”[32] Though it “decline[d] to provide a comprehensive list of what activities constitute[d] sufficient contact with the state,” the court “reject[ed] the notion that a person automatically practices law ‘in California’ whenever that person practices California law anywhere, or ‘virtually’ enters the state by telephone, fax, e-mail, or satellite” – a finding the court suggested struck a balance “between interjurisdictional practice and the need to have a state-regulated bar.”[33]

Applying these principles, the court found that its “‘sufficient contact’ definition of ‘practice law in California’ … [did not] excuse [the firm’s] extensive practice in [the] state.”[34] It declined to “craft an arbitration exception” to its unauthorized practice of law statute, as advocated by the firm, finding that was best left to the Legislature.[35] It likewise refused to adopt an exception to the law to address multistate relationships, for while recognizing the need in certain cases to accommodate the multistate nature of law practice, the facts showed the firm’s extensive activities within California went beyond any recognized exception to the statute.[36]

The Birbrower decision showed there is more at stake for attorneys violating unauthorized practice of law statutes than professional discipline. The court upheld, in part, the intermediate court’s ruling that the fee agreement between ESQ and the firm was unenforceable, finding the lower court was correct in barring the firm from recovering fees generated under the agreement for unauthorized services performed in California.[37] The higher court disagreed with the intermediate court to the extent it implicitly barred the firm from recovering fees generated under the agreement for the limited legal services performed in New York to the extent they did not constitute the practice of law in California, even though services were performed for a California client.[38]

Applying Birbrower today, it likely matters very little whether the out-of-state attorney sets foot in a state in which they are not licensed. A handful of videoconferences or teleconferences in which the attorney discusses the strategy in resolving a dispute, gives legal advice or negotiates a settlement in another state may be considered more than just “fortuitous or attenuated” and rise to the level of “sufficient activities” to constitute the unauthorized practice of law. It remains to be seen, though, whether the answer would be different under even slightly different facts: for example, if the Oklahoma attorney is advising the out-of-state client on the application of Oklahoma law for a dispute pending in another state. That is the predicament presented by an issue that depends on a “consideration of the acts of service performed in each case.”[39]

In practice, the application of Rule 5.5 and states’ unauthorized practice of law statutes may lead to harsh results. Following Birbrower, the Minnesota Supreme Court refused to make an exception for an out-of-state lawyer providing legal services to family members who lived in Minnesota. Many of us would not think twice about helping a family member living in another state who turns to us for legal advice because we are the attorney in the family. The ability to practice law virtually makes that a more viable option.

The attorney, who was licensed in Colorado, was asked by his in-laws to assist them in negotiating a judgment entered against them in Minnesota for $2,368.13 in favor of their condo association.[40] The attorney sent a letter to the condo association’s attorney informing him that he was representing his in-laws, and thereafter, the two attorneys exchanged approximately two dozen emails discussing the debtors’ assets, ability to pay and potential for a foreclosure action.[41] At one point, the Colorado attorney attached financial disclosure forms to an email and made a settlement offer.[42] Early on in their communications, the condo association attorney asked the Colorado attorney whether he was licensed in Minnesota, and the attorney told him he was not.[43] He said that if he had to file a lawsuit, he would engage local counsel. In one of their final exchanges, the condo association’s attorney asserted that the Colorado lawyer was engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, and the condo association later filed an ethics complaint.[44] Even after that, the attorney for the condo association sent additional emails to the attorney asking whether the settlement offer was still on the table.[45]

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The director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility issued a private admonition to the Colorado attorney for engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, and a panel of the Lawyers Professional Responsibility board affirmed.[46] The Colorado attorney appealed the decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court, arguing he did not run afoul of Minnesota’s version of Rule 5.5 because he did not practice law in Minnesota.[47] The court disagreed:

Appellant contacted D.R., a Minnesota lawyer, and stated that he represented Minnesota clients in a Minnesota legal dispute. This legal dispute was not interjurisdictional; instead, it involved only Minnesota residents and a debt arising from a judgment entered by a Minnesota court. Appellant instructed D.R. to refer all future correspondence to him, and he continued to engage in correspondence and negotiations with D.R. over the course of several months. Appellant requested and received financial documents from his Minnesota clients and advised them on their legal options. By multiple e-mails sent over several months, appellant advised Minnesota clients on Minnesota law in connection with a Minnesota legal dispute and attempted to negotiate a resolution of that dispute with a Minnesota attorney. Appellant had a clear, ongoing attorney-client relationship with his Minnesota clients, and his contacts with Minnesota were not fortuitous or attenuated. Thus, there is ample support for the Panel’s finding that appellant practiced law in Minnesota.[48]

Thus, it matters not where the attorney is physically located when the services are performed. It matters, instead, where the clients are located and where the dispute arises. Had the attorney’s in-laws’ legal troubles had at least some connection to Colorado, the outcome may have been different.

Indeed, Rule 5.5 is not an absolute bar to interstate practice. It contains a safe harbor provision permitting a lawyer licensed in a U.S. jurisdiction who is not disbarred or suspended in a jurisdiction to provide legal services on a temporary basis in four specifically enumerated instances: when the services 1) “are undertaken in association with a lawyer who is admitted to practice in th[e] jurisdiction and who actively participates in the matter”; 2) “are in or reasonably related to a pending or potential proceeding before a tribunal in this or another jurisdiction, if the lawyer, or a person the lawyer is assisting, is authorized by law or order to appear in such proceeding or reasonably expects to be so authorized”[49]; 3) “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 and are not services for which the forum requires pro hac vice admission”; or 4) “arise out of or are reasonably related to the lawyer’s practice in a jurisdiction in which the lawyer is admitted to practice.”[50] The list is not necessarily exhaustive. Comment 5 provides, “The fact that conduct is not so identified does not imply that the conduct is or is not authorized.”[51] And, “There is no single test to determine whether a lawyer’s services are provided on a ‘temporary basis.’ ... Services may be ‘temporary’ even though the lawyer provides services in a jurisdiction where not admitted on a recurring basis, or for an extended period of time, as when the lawyer is representing a client in a single lengthy negotiation or litigation.”[52]

The Ohio Board of Professional Conduct has opined that an “out-of-state lawyer who is admitted and in good standing in another United States jurisdiction may represent, on a temporary basis, an out-of-state lending institution concerning loans made to persons and entities in Ohio secured by real property in Ohio” without engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, pursuant to Rule 5.5.[53] This includes preparing loan documents, negotiating the terms of an agreement and attending the closing in Ohio.[54] In arriving at this opinion, the board reasoned that if “the out-of-state lawyer’s services are provided to a current client, the transaction relates to the client’s out-of-state business, and significant aspects of the work are conducted in the jurisdiction of licensure, then the representation is ‘arising out of or are reasonably related’ to his or her practice in the licensing jurisdiction.” Furthermore, legal services typically required to complete a loan transaction are “usually of a short duration” and, thus, can be reasonably viewed as provided on a temporary basis.[55]

In the Minnesota disciplinary proceeding discussed, supra, the court took a narrow approach, refusing to find the “temporary basis” exception applied because, for one, the attorney knew further litigation was unlikely as a court had already entered judgment, so he was merely negotiating a debt resolution.[56] The court observed, “Rule 5.5(c)(2), by its plain language, requires more than an attorney’s speculation that the attorney can find local counsel and be admitted to practice pro hac vice,” and there was no evidence the attorney took steps to associate counsel.[57] The court also rejected the attorney’s argument that his services arose out of or were reasonably related to his practice in Colorado, as he primarily practiced environmental and personal injury law in Colorado, his in-laws were not Colorado residents, he had no prior attorney-client relationship with them and there was no connection between his in-laws’ case and the state laws of Colorado.[58] Still, finding that the “nature of the misconduct in th[e] case was non-serious” and the only harm the in-laws suffered was a delay in resolving their debt, the court concluded a private admonition was appropriate.[59]

There is no clear answer as to the extent to which an Oklahoma attorney may operate a virtual practice and perform services for clients residing outside of the state or related to legal issues arguably arising beyond Oklahoma’s border. The text and comments of Rule 5.5, the legal commentary analyzing it and Birbrower and its progeny teach us that providing legal services in a state where an attorney is not licensed can be done but only if limited in time and scope and only if those services relate to a court proceeding or arbitration pending in the attorney’s state of licensure or the attorney’s practice in a jurisdiction in which they are admitted. Keep in mind that, regardless of where misconduct occurs, a member of the OBA who engages in the unauthorized practice of law in another state is subject to discipline in Oklahoma.[60]

Attorneys practicing virtually must take care to ensure they are not, even unintentionally, holding themselves out as practicing in a state in which they are not licensed in violation of Rule 5.5(b). Some states have held that advertising legal services in a jurisdiction in which the lawyer is not licensed constitutes the unauthorized practice of law.[61] To avoid any confusion, all marketing materials ­– including the attorney’s website, email signature and social media sites ­– should identify the states in which the attorney is licensed. The ABA has opined, “If the lawyer’s website, letterhead, business cards, advertising, and the like clearly indicate the lawyer’s jurisdictional limitations, do not provide an address in the local jurisdiction, and do not offer to provide legal services in the local jurisdiction, the lawyer has not ‘held out’ as prohibited by the rule.”[62]


It is axiomatic that lawyers who choose to practice virtually must do so competently, which means “keep[ing] abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.[63] The pandemic was a game changer, forcing some of us to embrace technology in ways we were not prepared. “You’re on mute” became one of the most-uttered phrases of 2020. And we all felt for the Texas lawyer whose video went viral after he was trapped by a cat filter on a Zoom call while appearing virtually in court. He was nevertheless determined to proceed with the hearing, explaining to the judge that while he did not know how to remove the filter, he was there “live,” and in case there was any doubt, “not a cat.”[64] As videoconferencing becomes more commonplace, the Rules of Professional Conduct arguably demand more of attorneys to adopt and adapt to the technology, even the tech averse.

A virtual law practice may also present more obstacles in protecting client information, including the risks of a cybersecurity attack.[65] The Rules of Professional Conduct impose upon attorneys only a duty to “make reasonable efforts” to prevent unauthorized disclosure of or access to client information and, in determining what is reasonable, take into account the costs of employing safeguards and difficulty implementing them, as well as the extent to which such safeguards interfere with the lawyer’s ability to practice law.[66]

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“As COVID-19 ravaged New York,” the New York State Bar Association released an important alert “caution[ing] against storing or transferring client confidential data outside a firm’s secure environment and on unapproved personal cloud service accounts or personal devices that are not secure, and encourag[ing] ensuring personal devices are segregated with separate passwords to restrict access by family members.”[67] The bar also advised firms’ IT departments to monitor remote access for irregularities, log network activity and perform random stress tests to detect any vulnerabilities.[68] These warnings remain relevant even as COVID-19 fears have lifted.[69] If anything, the rules require more measures to satisfy the “reasonable efforts” standard. When in doubt, attorneys should retain a consultant to make sure client information is being handled adequately.[70]

Videoconferencing platforms present their own concerns. The ABA advises attorneys to “review the terms of service (and any updates to those terms) to ensure that using the virtual meeting or videoconferencing platform is consistent with the lawyer’s ethical obligations.”[71] “When video conferencing with clients and colleagues, lawyers should manually check that Zoom is up-to-date, even if set to automatically update, use the waiting room feature to control participants, manage screen sharing options for video and audio, and use randomly generated meeting IDs and passwords transmitted by different means of communication, e.g., sending the meeting ID via email and the password via instant messaging.”[72]

Working remotely raises confidentiality risks untethered to the technology itself as well. “Lawyers should be aware of their surroundings and avoid having confidential conversations around others.”[73] Attorneys may run afoul of Rule 1.6 simply by having a phone conversation with a client within the earshot of a family member or sending an email from a coffee shop where a third party can view it over the attorney’s shoulder. Even when the attorney is alone, devices like Amazon’s Alexa may be present with the ability to record a private conversation.[74] When working remotely, it is further advisable to implement a “clean desk” or “clean screen” policy to secure documents and data when not in use so that they are not visible or audible to others.[75]


A virtual law practice, likewise, makes it more difficult to supervise less experienced lawyers and nonlawyer staff. The Rules of Professional Conduct require lawyers with managerial authority over other lawyers and nonlawyers to take reasonable steps to ensure there are measures in place to give assurance that the subordinate lawyers’ and nonlawyers’ conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer.[76] A lawyer can be held responsible under the rules for another person’s conduct if “(1) the lawyer orders or, with the knowledge of the specific conduct, ratifies the conduct involved; or (2) the lawyer is a partner or has comparable managerial authority in the law firm in which the person is employed, or has direct supervisory authority over the person, and knows of the conduct at a time when its consequences can be avoided or mitigated but fails to take reasonable remedial action.”[77]

It is much easier for supervisory attorneys to fulfill these obligations if the colleagues they are supervising are right down the hall. “Whether via video conferencing, email, or phone calls, lawyers should stay connected to their staff and to other lawyers using the same tools they would use to stay connected with clients” and provide the necessary assistance and instruction concerning ethical aspects of their work.[78] Of particular concern is employees’ use of their own devices to conduct firm business. The ABA counsels that “[i]f lawyers or nonlawyer assistants will be using their own devices to access, transmit, or sort client-related information,” policies should be in place to “ensure that security is tight (e.g., strong passwords to the device and to any routers, access to VPN, updates installed, training or phishing attempts), that any lost or stolen device may be remotely wiped, that client-related information cannot be accessed by, for example, staff members’ family or others, and that client-related information will be adequately and safely archived for later retrieval.”[79]


For a profession often accused of being behind the times, the pandemic’s remote work requirements ushered in a technological transformation that taught many of us what lawyers working virtually have known for years. The World Wide Web can make our jobs more efficient, convenient and flexible while expanding the universe of clients we can serve. Some attorneys at my firm have learned they prefer working from home and have adopted a more hybrid approach, gracing us with their presence at the office when they have an in-person meeting or court appearance. For the more introverted among us, the pandemic was a dream. While working from home in my pajamas was appealing at first, I discovered I crave working in the office where I can work collaboratively and bounce ideas off my colleagues. I am a smarter and better attorney thanks to the people with whom I work (and my SUV is more often than not full of fast-food crumbs and smells like sour milk). Plus, while the potty-training toddler is now 5, he has gained a potty-training 2-year-old brother with the same disposition for the ill-timed grand appearance. No matter where we choose to work, the future of law is virtual, and we must embrace it while heeding our ethical obligations under the Rules of Professional Conduct, which are often slow to keep pace with the changing times.


Paige Masters is a shareholder/director of Crowe & Dunlevy, where she is a member of the Commercial Litigation, Healthcare and Appellate practice groups and chairperson of the firm’s Ethics Committee. Her legal practice is focused on complex commercial litigation, including insurance and healthcare litigation, as well as appellate work. Ms. Masters received her J.D. from the OCU School of Law, where she was editor-in-chief of the Oklahoma City University Law Review.



[1] Roy Strom, “Covid Propelled Office-Free Law Firms to 1,000-Lawyer Movement,” Bloomberg Law (Oct. 27, 2022, 4:30 a.m.), https://bit.ly/3NrKc76.

[2] Id.

[3] ABA Comm. on Ethics & Prof’l Responsibility, Formal Op. 498 (2021).

[4] See, e.g., Conn. Gen. Stat. §51-88(b)(1) (“Any person who violates any provision of this section shall be guilty of a class D felony, except that in any prosecution under this section, if the defendant proves by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant committed the proscribed act or acts while admitted to practice law before the highest court of original jurisdiction in any state, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico or a territory of the United States or in a district court of the United States and while a member in good standing of such bar, such defendant shall be guilty of a class C misdemeanor.”); Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §6126 (“Any person advertising or holding himself or herself out as practicing or entitled to practice law or otherwise practicing law who is not an active licensee of the State Bar, or otherwise authorized pursuant to statute or court rule to practice law in this state at the time of doing so, is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in a county jail or by a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.”).

[5] Okla. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 5.5(b)(1)-(2).

[6] Okla. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 5.5 cmt. 2.

[7] Okla. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 5.5 cmt. 4 (emphasis added).

[8] Okla. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 5.5 cmt. 2.

[9] ABA Comm. on Ethics & Prof’l Responsibility, Formal Op. 495 (2020) (emphasis added).

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Utah State Bar, Ethics Op. 19-03 (2019); Maine Prof’l Ethics Comm., Op. 189 (2005) (“Where the lawyer’s practice is located in another state and where the lawyer is working on office matters from afar, we would conclude that the lawyer is not engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. We would reach the same conclusion with respect to a lawyer who lived in Maine and worked out of his or her home for the benefit of a law firm and clients located in some other jurisdiction.”); Ethical considerations – Unauthorized Practice of Law, 2 Successful Partnering Between Inside and Outside Counsel §26:33 (citing cases and advising that “[a]lthough most jurisdictions have not deemed remote, virtual practice by a lawyer physically present in a jurisdiction where that lawyer is not admitted as the unauthorized practice of law during the COVID-19 pandemic, as COVID restrictions are eliminated, lawyers who are involved in legal outsourcing and engage in remote, virtual practice should monitor the Rules of Professional Conduct of the jurisdiction in which they are physically present, and in which that lawyer is licensed, to ensure compliance with Rule 5.5.”).

[13] R. J. Edwards, Inc. v. Hert, 1972 OK 151, ¶20, 504 P.2d 407, 416.

[14] 1972 OK 151, ¶23, 504 P.2d at 416 (citation omitted).

[15] State ex rel. Oklahoma Bar Ass’n v. Wolfe, 1997 OK 47, 937 P.2d 988.

[16] Houts v. State ex rel. Oklahoma Bar Ass’n, 1971 OK 62, ¶¶11, 13, 14, 486 P.2d 722, 724-25.

[17] State ex. rel. Oklahoma Bar Ass’n v. Downing, 1993 OK 44, ¶5, 863 P.2d 1111, 1113. See also R.J. Edwards, 1972 OK 151, ¶23, 504 P.2d at 417 (“a layman who evaluates a claim, and undertakes to settle it, based upon applicable legal principles, is practicing law”).

[18] See Nat’l Funding, Inc. v. Com. Credit Counseling Servs., Inc., 817 F. App’x 380, 385 (9th Cir. 2020).

[19] In California, it is a misdemeanor to practice law when one is not a member of the state bar. Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§6125, 6126.

[20] Birbrower, Montalbano, Condon & Frank v. Superior Ct., 949 P.2d 1, 2 (Cal. 1998), as modified (Feb. 25, 1998). Similar to Oklahoma, California defines “practice of law” as “the doing and performing services in a court of justice in any matter depending therein throughout its various stages and in conformity with the adopted rules of procedure,” which California courts have found includes “legal advice and legal instrument contract preparation, whether or not these subjects were rendered in the course of litigation.” Id. at 5 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

[21] See id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id. at 3.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Id. at 4.

[29] Id. at 5.

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Id. at 5-6.

[33] Id. at 6. In doing so, the court recognized that “[i]n furtherance of the public interest, the legal profession should discourage regulation that unreasonably imposes territorial limitations upon the right of a lawyer to handle the legal affairs of his client or upon the opportunity of a client to obtain the services of a lawyer of his choice in all matters including the presentation of a contested matter in a tribunal before which the lawyer is not permanently admitted to practice.” (internal quotations and citation omitted). The dissent argued for a more liberal approach and more narrow definition of the practice of law “as the representation of another in a judicial proceeding or an activity requiring the application of that degree of legal knowledge and technique possessed only by a trained legal mind.” Id. at 13.

[34] Id.

[35] Id.

[36] Id.

[37] Id. at 10. “It is a general rule that an attorney is barred from recovering compensation for services rendered in another state where the attorney was not admitted to the bar.” Id. The court refused to make an exception to the general rule of nonrecovery for in-state services if the out-of-state attorney discloses to his client he lacks a local license, noting that it disagreed with the Idaho Supreme Court that allowed an Oklahoma attorney to recover for services rendered in Idaho probate court because the attorney had not falsely represented himself as being licensed in Idaho in Freeling v. Tucker, 289 P.85 (Idaho 1930). Id.

[38] Id. at 11. See also Koscove v. Bolte, 30 P.3d 784, 786-87 (Colo. App. 2011) (finding lawyer engaged in unauthorized practice of law by analyzing lease with oil company and giving client opinion on its meaning, expressing opinions about legal theories for recovery of damages, communicating with oil company and assisting in contemplated lawsuit); Cleveland Bar Ass’n v. Moore, 722 N.E.2d 514, 515 (Ohio 2000) (“A lawyer admitted to practice in another state, but not authorized to practice in Ohio, who counsels Ohio clients on Ohio law and drafts legal documents for them is engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in Ohio.”).

[39] R.J. Edwards, 1972 OK 151, ¶23, 504 P.2d at 416.

[40] In re Charges of Unprofessional Conduct in Panel File No. 39302, 884 N.W.2d 661, 664 (Minn. 2016).

[41] Id.

[42] Id.

[43] Id.

[44] Id.

[45] Id.

[46] Id. at 665.

[47] Id.

[48] Id. at 666 (emphasis added).

[49] This would include meeting with clients, interviewing potential witnesses, reviewing documents and taking depositions. Okla. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 5.5 cmt 10.

[50] Okla. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 5.5(c)(1)-(4). A “variety of factors” are to be considered in determining whether “services arise out of” or are “reasonably related to the lawyer’s practice in a jurisdiction in which the lawyer is admitted.” “The lawyer’s client may have been previously represented by the lawyer, or may be resident in or have substantial contacts with the jurisdiction in which the lawyer is admitted. The matter, although involving other jurisdictions, may have a significant connection with that jurisdiction. In other cases, significant aspects of the lawyer’s work might be conducted in that jurisdiction or a significant aspect of the matter may involve the law of that jurisdiction. The necessary relationship might arise when the client’s activities or the legal issues involve multiple jurisdictions, such as when the officers of a multinational corporation survey potential business sites and seek the services of their lawyer in assessing the relative merits of each. In addition, the services may draw on the lawyer’s recognized expertise developed through the regular practice of law on behalf of clients in matters involving a particular body of federal, nationally-uniform, foreign, or international law.” Okla. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 5.5 cmt. 14.

[51] Okla. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 5.5 cmt. 5.

[52] Okla. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 5.5 cmt. 6.

[53] Ohio Bd. of Prof’l Conduct, Formal Op. 2018-2 (2018).

[54] Id.

[55] Id.

[56] In re Charges of Unprofessional Conduct, 884 N.W.2d at 667.

[57] Id.

[58] Id. at 668.

[59] Id. at 669. Three judges dissented, urging they “would conclude that appellant’s assistance with a small judgment-collection negotiation for his parents-in-law, including the emails to D.R., were ‘reasonably related’ to appellant’s practice in Colorado, which satisfies Rule 5.5(c)(4). The ‘reasonably related’ exception in Rule 5.5(c)(4) is a broad, catch-all exception that is intended to exempt circumstances such as those presented here. Moreover, the familial connection between appellant and his in-laws, and the fact that they contacted appellant in Colorado for assistance, should be an additional consideration that supports a finding that the matter was ‘reasonably related’ to his practice in Colorado under Rule 5.5(c)(4).” In re Charges of Unprofessional Conduct, 884 N.W.2d at 670 (Anderson, J, dissenting).

[60] Okla. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 8.5(a). See also State ex rel. Oklahoma Bar Ass’n v. Auer, 2016 OK 75, ¶22, 376 P.3d 243, 250 (ordering that Oklahoma lawyer should be disbarred for engaging in unauthorized practice of law in Colorado by holding himself out as a licensed attorney in Colorado, establishing multiple offices, drafting legal documents and offering legal advice to clients).

[61] In re Amendments to Rules Regulating the Florida Bar, 108 So.3d 609, 617 (Fla. 2013) (“A lawyer cannot advertise for Florida cases within the state of Florida or target advertisements to Florida residents, because such an advertisement in and of itself constitutes the unlicensed practice of law.”); Fla. Bar v. Kaiser, 397 So.2d 1132, 1134 (Fla. 1981) (concluding that attorney’s advertisements in telephone books, on television and in newspapers of his availability as an attorney, with the implication that he was authorized to practice law in the state, constituted the unauthorized practice of law); Haymond v. State Grievance Comm., 723 A.2d 821 (Conn. Super. Ct. 1997) (finding attorney licensed only in Connecticut and Pennsylvania engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by placing ad in Yellow Pages in Massachusetts because “advertising legal services [wa]s expressly including within the practice of law” under Connecticut statute); In re Williamson, 838 So.2d 226, 235-36 (Miss. 2002) (determining that out-of-state attorney engaged in the practice of law in part by soliciting cases via a 1-800 number advertised in Mississippi through television commercials among other, more direct, actions). For more on advertising issues posed by internet and social media sites, see Timila S. Rother and Paige A. Masters, “Lawyers Being Social: Ethical Implications of Personal Social Media Sites,” 87 Okla. B.J. 2503, 2016.

[62] ABA Comm. on Ethics & Prof’l Responsibility, Formal Op. 498 (2021).

[63] Okla. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 1.1 cmt. 8.

[64] “Lawyer accidentally appears as cat in virtual court case,” CNN.com, available at https://bit.ly/43153Uf (last visited May 29, 2023.) “Zoom Cat Lawyer, also known as I’m Not a Cat,” now has his own Wikipedia page, https://bit.ly/3pgyMuU.

[65] Okla. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 1.6(c) (“A lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.”).

[66] Okla. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 1.6(c) cmt. 16.

[67] Devika Kewalramani et al., “Social Distance Lawyering: How Close Is Your Ethical Compliance?” 92 N.Y. St. B.J. 35, 36 (2020).

[68] Id.

[69] Attorneys using videoconferencing platforms should “recognize the importance of using a [ ] provider that implements appropriate securities measures, and carefully review and comprehend the terms of use and service agreement.” Id. at 36-37. “[W]hen video conferencing with clients and colleagues, lawyers should manually check that Zoom is up-to-date, even if set to automatically update, use the waiting room feature to control participants, manage screen sharing options for video and audio, and use randomly generated meeting IDs and passwords transmitted by different means of communication, e.g., sending the meeting ID via email and the password via instant messaging.” Id. at 37.

[70] For more on the ethics of using technology in the post-COVID era, see Danielle M. Hall, “Ethically Using Technology in the Era of COVID-19: A Catalyst for Innovation and Flexibility,” 90 J. Kan. B.A. 29 (2021).

[71] ABA Standing Comm. On Ethics & Prof’l Responsibility, Formal Op. 498 (2021).

[72] Kewalramani, supra note 67, at 37.

[73] Id. at 37.

[74] Id.

[75] ABA Standing Comm. on Ethics & Prof’l Responsibility, Formal Op. 498 (2021).

[76] Okla. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 5.3(a)-(b).

[77] Okla. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 5.3(c).

[78] Kewalramani, supra note 67, at 37-38.

[79] ABA Standing Comm. on Ethics & Prof’l Responsibility, Formal Op. 498 (2021).

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal – OBJ 95 Vol 6 (August 2023)

Statements or opinions expressed in the Oklahoma Bar Journal are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Oklahoma Bar Association, its officers, Board of Governors, Board of Editors or staff.