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The late Professor Charlotte Striebel was a lawyer if that term means one who is licensed to practice law, but not a lawyer if that term means one who does practice law. She worked for decades as a professor of mathematics at the University of Minnesota and had no interest in practicing law, but for some reason she kept her license current. That means attending annual continuing legal education events, and paying license fees.

Are there some advantages to keeping such a license without having any interest in working as a lawyer?

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  • 3
    Perhaps she did some pro bono legal work?
    – Someone
    Sep 21 at 5:46
  • @Someone : From what she told me, I would be surprised if that were true. Sep 21 at 6:09
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    "but for some reason she kept her license current..." - A guess, but I imagine once you have a law license, it's far easier to keep it renewed/current than it is to let it lapse and one day decide you need it, and have to start the entire process over again. Like an MD may not be actively practicing medicine, but keeping that license current is far easier than getting relicensed I'm sure.
    – BruceWayne
    Sep 21 at 16:50
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    @BruceWayne : it's the same with pilots.
    – vsz
    Sep 22 at 5:05
  • 2
    Tammy Wynette kept her beautician's licence current so she could return to hairdressing if her music career didn't work out. It could be analogous to that.
    – DavidW
    Sep 22 at 9:29

6 Answers 6

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If you stay licensed, you have the option to enter the practice of law in the future with no administrative hassles.

In contrast, if you let your license lapse, you could have to study for and take the bar exam over again, go through an arduous background check known as a character and fitness review (reviewing your entire adult life), and face months of delay and significant expenditures of money to practice law again.

The character and fitness review also isn't just a time and money saver. Once you are admitted, you can only have your licensed revoked or suspended for doing something that violates professional ethics after you are admitted to practice. When you apply to the practice of law initially, you can be denied the right to practice law for bad characters for all manner of things in the broad discretion of the licensing officials. There are many kinds of conduct that can't be considered after you are admitted that can be used to deny you a license to practice law in the first place.

Effectively, you are doing the continuing education courses and paying the fees to keep the option of returning to the profession trouble free, open.

For example, I continue to be admitted to the practice of law in New York State, even though I no longer take cases there on a regular basis, so that in the one or two cases every few years that I do have in that state, I do not need to get a pro hac vice admission for a single case in that state, and so that if I ever want to relocate to New York State to practice law actively there, I can without a minimum of bureaucratic hurdles to doing so. Continuing education courses are also tax deductible in most cases.

Even if I was no longer actively practicing in either of the states where I am admitted to the practice of law, keeping the licenses in force would also allow me to apply for admission to the practice of law in many other states on a streamlined basis available for currently licensed lawyers who have been admitted to practice for at least five years.

Some states also allow you to go on "inactive" status with reduced fees and continuing education requirements, and then return to active practice again, by paying the fees and starting to take regular continuing education classes again, which makes this affordable during a period when you are exploring another career, considering an early retirement, or taking time off to raise kids.

In New York State, lawyers also have the ability to conduct certain kinds of real estate transactions for their clients without a real estate broker's license.

Once you are admitted to practice you are also grandfathered in if the requirements to be admitted to the practice of law change in the future.

For example, suppose New York State required a one year apprenticeship before you could practice independently starting in 2021. If you were admitted to practice in 2020, you would be exempt from that requirement.

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  • @CodyGray Fixed.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 23 at 19:07
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Only lawyers can own law firms.

Simply put, lawyers have a legal monopoly on the ownership of law firms. If you want to buy a stake in one, you need to be a lawyer. Even if a billionare like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk wanted to get into the legal business, they wouldn't be allowed to.

While this is changing in some areas of the US, in most, it remains illegal under Rule 5.4 of their professional code of conduct.

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    That is interesting. A citation would be great. (And you might want to include explicitly the region where this is valid.)
    – Kvothe
    Sep 21 at 14:39
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    I'd also find that hard to believe, at least in the US. But did find this - not sure it's a "law", but it is a reference to the Attorney Rules of Conduct, Non-Lawyer Ownership.
    – John C
    Sep 21 at 16:09
  • Surely someone who isn't a lawyer can't be bound by the lawyer's code of conduct? Sep 22 at 14:46
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    @ScottishTapWater: It's hard to have a law firm without employing lawyers to do the work. Those employees are bound by the code of conduct....
    – Ben Voigt
    Sep 22 at 15:01
  • This is absolutely a benefit. I doubt that in practice it is a major motivating factor for many people who are inactive lawyers that keep their law licenses current. Very few non-retired lawyers are inactive owners of law firms, even though they are allowed to be inactive owners of law firms.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 23 at 19:13
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As a comparison. I'm an Engineer. I'm a Professional Engineer in my home province in Canada, but I've lived in the US for 30 years now. I continue to send my fees each year so that I can say "I'm an Engineer; I'm a Professional Engineer, though not here in Texas".

I've never signed nor sealed any design or drawings (back home or here). Though I do do things like point out unsafe things to building owners (the response is often "Why do you care?" to which I respond "I'm an engineer, it's one of my professional responsibilities")

I've never been a lawyer, but I consider that my profession is part of my identity and I'm assuming lawyers have a similar bond.

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There may be many procedural advantages (and disadvantages) to be deemed a legal professional admitted to a bar or other government bodies (for e.g. in administrative-law settings) to practice law.

A pro se litigant may “be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers" (Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (provided they cite authority in support of this matter of law…); however, an attorney may -- in administrative courts, for e.g. before the EOIR -- be entitled to register accounts for the court's electronic case administration system (ECAS), and may -- in fact must -- receive, file and serve all documents electronically. Being an attorney, means they can conduct motion practice electronically prior to oral hearings. This may or may not have applied to her in 2014 or until the time she maintained her license.

One being an attorney is deemed to be an "officer of the court" which requires, as a matter of law, of the person to know the law applicable to their case, and therefore, is given more weight on their arguments on law, if not else, as a matter of practical reality.

Although neither before 1983 nor after August, 2020 were such restrictions in place in all U.S. states; however, after 1983 through the death of the professor all states followed the ABA Model Rule 5.3 preventing anyone other than any attorneys to own any stake in a law firm. (This, however, already changed in, for e.g., Arizona since August, 2020)

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Beyond practical applications, there's human nature.

Becoming a lawyer is not easy, if I had worked my hard for years to obtain that license I'm not letting it lapse. Even if I don't plan on using it. I earned it, I'm keeping it.

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One possible advantage to being a lawyer, and having the documentation to prove it, is that you might get better treatment when confronted by the police on suspicion of a crime or traffic violation. I have observed this on the basis of watching a hundred or so videos of dashcam, bodycam, and cell phone footage posted to online forums, some of which involve the suspect disclosing that they're a lawyer. But note the following:

  1. By "better treatment", I mean only that the police officers sometimes drop or tone down the tactics they use on other suspects who they presume are ignorant about legal matters and police procedures. These tactics include trying to strong-arm the suspect into consent for a search, or trying to extract a confession through intimidation (i.e., by making unfounded arguments about the law or the suspect's behaviour).

  2. If disclosing one's identity as a lawyer helps at all, then it's usually only when it's done in a non-condescending and non-threatening manner. If the first thing out of the lawyer's mouth is, "I'm a lawyer and I'm going to sue you for unlawful arrest/search/seizure," then the encounter is probably not going to go any better than if the person had not been a lawyer. On the other hand, I have seen some videos where the suspect raised firm but polite objections to the police officer's grandiose demands, to which the officer was the one who asked the suspect if they were a lawyer. In these cases the police officer often scales back their demands to only what the law requires of the suspect.

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    You could do all this without actually be licensed unless in those videos the lawyer shows their bar card. Sep 22 at 20:00
  • @AzorAhai-him- You could, so long as the officer doesn't call your bluff by demanding proof.
    – Psychonaut
    Sep 23 at 7:09

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