Say a lawyer is licensed to practice law in State A, and gives legal advice to a family member in state B which they are unlicensed.

How could that lawyer violate state bar ethics? Where are the pitfalls?

  • Is the lawyer giving the advice while at State A (e.g. by phone) or are both the lawyer and the family member at State B when the advice was given (e.g. at a family gathering) ?
    – Ángel
    Aug 28, 2020 at 23:12
  • The lawyer calls the family member before and after they meet with the licensed lawyers and is cc'd on all legal correspondence (email) and the licensed lawyers also discuss specific strategies with the out of state lawyer.
    – LawCurious
    Aug 29, 2020 at 5:05
  • A lot of things alter the picture, for example: Did the lawyer from out of state apply for a Pro hac vice appearance in this case? Which states are involved (some do allow it)? Is he consulted by the lawyer as an expert on process tactics or is he consulted by the family to do their legal stuff?
    – Trish
    Aug 30, 2020 at 9:26
  • @Trish - Doesn't pro hac vice apply specifically to court appearance? Aug 30, 2020 at 15:31
  • @GeorgeWhite it can also apply to being allowed to file stuff.
    – Trish
    Aug 30, 2020 at 15:41

1 Answer 1


Giving advice on business or personal matters isn't legal advice. In this specific example it sounds like they have counsel in state already, the relative is not representing them as their attorney.

Giving legal advice often isn't unlicensed practice of law. It could be though. If the lawyer was representing a client in court, taking them on as a client, accepting money for legal services, or preparing a motion it would be a problem.

Many states offer reciprocity to lawyers licensed in some other states, or are part of the uniform bar exam. And if they are only covering federal law, like immigration it is typically not an issue. There is an exception for in house counsel, as the business is not harmed when an attorney practices outside of where they are licensed because they do so for the benefit of their employer, and they understand the risks. So it is possible to practice law legally in a state you were not originally licensed in some cases.

MJP or UPL violations can be misdemeanors in the worst case. Unless a client was financially harmed, or there were other serious ethical breaches like a sexual relationship with a client, it is very rare for the bar to get involved. Another pitfall is that malpractice insurance may not cover practicing outside of the original jurisdiction. So if there was alleged malpractice defending it could be expensive, even if they ultimately prevail.

  • add to that Pro Hac Vice
    – Trish
    Aug 30, 2020 at 10:43

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