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Attorneys – In- State Office Requirement – W. Va. Law – Constitutional

The West Virginia Bar may legally require that a lawyer appearing pro hac vice in that state must be sponsored by a member of that state’s bar who practices law on a daily basis from an office located in West Virginia; the state bar’s in-state office requirement does not violate the Privileges & Immunities Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

This case stems from a 1995 amendment to West Virginia’s Practice Rule for visiting lawyers, Rule 8.0, Admission Pro Hac Vice. Prior to the amendment, the rule simply required the pro hac vice applicant to be associated with an active member in good standing of the state bar, who shall be a responsible local attorney in the action. The State Supreme Court and the State Bar maintain that the amendment is an appropriate exercise of the court’s authority to regulate the practice of law by out-of-state lawyers not licensed in West Virginia by requiring them to associate with local counsel who will be accessible and meaningfully involved in a given case.

The 1995 amendment prevents plaintiff here from being a “responsible local attorney,” even though he is a member in good standing of the West Virginia Bar. He resides in Atlanta, Ga., and practices there with a 40-member firm, but he is widely known for his expertise in defending asbestos personal injury cases in West Virginia. Applying the new rule, a state court declined to allow plaintiff to act as the “responsible local attorney” for three colleagues he sought to have admitted pro hac vice in a 1995 case.

West Virginia is bordered by five states and its northern and eastern panhandles are narrow. A look at a regional map reveals that numerous locations in West Virginia are within commuting distance from places in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky. We do not know exactly how many nonresident lawyers commute into West Virginia each day to work, but we are convinced that West Virginia’s configuration and location prevent Rule 8.0(c) from imposing a residency restriction. We therefore agree with the district court that Rule 8.0(c) contains no prohibition against any nonresident West Virginia bar member practicing law on a daily basis in West Virginia and thus qualifying as a “responsible local attorney.”

Because the rule accords equal treatment to nonresidents and residents and because nonresidents can qualify as local counsel under the rule, there is no residency classification that requires scrutiny under the Privileges & Immunities Clause.

Even if we assume that the rule amounts to an in-state residency requirement, the privileges and immunities protections still do not apply to the activity (sponsoring pro hac vice applicants) regulated by the rule because we find that no fundamental right is at stake.

Judgment upholding the rule is affirmed.

Parnell v. Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia. (Lawyers Weekly No. 7-01-0565, 9 pp.) (Michael, J.) No. 96-1245, April 14, 1997; USDC at Clarksburg, W.Va. (Kidd, J.)

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