The Illinois Supreme Court has announced an amnesty program for lawyers who
- work in-house in Illinois,
- are admitted to the practice of law only in another U.S. jurisdiction, but
- have not obtained limited admission to the Illinois bar under Supreme Court Rule 716.
The amnesty will be in effect throughout 2014. Click here to view a copy of the press release describing the amnesty.
Illinois Supreme Court Rule 716 was adopted in 2004. It requires that an in-house lawyer for a corporation, partnership, association or other legal entity who is licensed to practice law only in another U.S. jurisdiction obtain a limited license to practice law in Illinois solely on behalf of the lawyer’s employer (and affiliated entities). Such lawyer need not take the Illinois bar exam, but must:
- Have a first degree in law (which in most circumstances means a J.D.) from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association;
- Pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (unless the lawyer has been practicing for 15 years or more);
- Be in good standing and on active status in at least one jurisdiction where the lawyer is already admitted; and
- Pay a one-time $1,250 application fee.
While approximately 830 licenses have been issued to in-house lawyers under Rule 716, it is estimated that almost 10,000 in-house lawyers work in the state. The Illinois Supreme Court’s press release announcing the amnesty program observes that it may be that a significant number of lawyers are not otherwise admitted to practice in Illinois and therefore ought to have obtained limited in-house licenses, but have not yet done so.
The Supreme Court’s press release states that
- “any in-house counsel who takes advantage of the amnesty program will not be prosecuted for the unauthorized practice of law”;
- “[a]ny previous failure to obtain a limited license will not be deemed an issue for in-house counsel who seeks an Illinois law license or grounds for attorney discipline”; and
- “any attorney who is a co-employee of an in-house counsel seeking amnesty will not be investigated by the ARDC [the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission] in connection with in-house counsel’s prior failing to be licensed under Rule 716.”
Although not mentioned in the press release, it may also be significant that the ARDC’s responsibilities with respect to enforcement of unauthorized practice of law (UPL) restrictions in Illinois were recently expanded, and the ARDC’s website has begun reporting UPL proceedings separately. Such stepped-up UPL enforcement by the ARDC could expand to enforcement actions against lawyers allegedly in violation of Rule 716, as well as against Illinois-admitted supervisory lawyers who could be alleged to have assisted or permitted UPL by other lawyers on their staffs, or to have failed to make a required report regarding such lawyers.
In light of the foregoing, in-house legal departments with lawyers located in Illinois may wish to review the bar status of those lawyers and to consider encouraging those who are eligible to participate in the amnesty program.
An in-house lawyer applying for limited admission during 2014 under the Rule 716 amnesty will not be required to pay arrearages in licensing fees or to make up MCLE credits for preceding periods. Such a lawyer will, however, be required to pay a $1,250 penalty, in addition to the $1,250 application fee. Lawyers obtaining limited admission under Rule 716 are also subject to bi-annual mandatory continuing legal education, annual registration and annual fee requirements.
Although the Illinois amnesty program may be unique, many states now have rules comparable to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 716. In addition, such limited in-house admission rules could have implications beyond the bar regulatory enforcement context. Although there are no reported cases on the topic, the failure of an in-house lawyer to comply with such rules could also provide opposing counsel in litigation with a basis for trying to argue that such in-house counsel should not be regarded as a lawyer for purposes of the attorney-client privilege in the jurisdiction in question. Cf. Gucci America, Inc. v. Guess?, Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15 (S.D.N.Y. January 3, 2011) (the fact that a company’s in-house lawyer was on “inactive” status with the only state bar to which he was admitted did not prevent communications with him from being privileged; although the decision never specifies where the in-house lawyer worked, it appears to have been a jurisdiction that had not yet been adopted an in-house admission rule).
Information and forms relating to Rule 716 limited admission of in-house counsel may be found on the website of the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar.