Opinion by Judges Deborah K. Chasanow, Peter J. Messitte, and Roger W. Titus
Held: If an attorney is a member in good standing of the highest court of a state (or the District of Columbia) and the attorney's firm has its principal physical location in that state, the attorney satisfies the requirements of Local Rule 701.1(a), even though the attorney personally resides in a distant state.
Analysis: Local Rule 701.1(a) provides that “in order for an attorney to be qualified for admission to the bar of this district, the attorney must be, and continuously remain, a member in good standing of the highest court of any state (or the District of Columbia) in which the attorney maintains his or her principal law office, or the Court of Appeals of Maryland.”
Ms. Carlton maintained her residence in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was employed by a law firm that had its principal office in the District of Columbia, but spent most of her time working from home or from an office space in Boston. While physically living in Massachusetts she did not practice in Massachusetts, does not have any clients based in Massachusetts or with claims in Massachusetts, and while she utilized rented office space in downtown Boston during the first year, she only used that office to practice law in the District of Columbia, this Court, and before the United States Court of Federal Claims. As of July 15, 2008, her firm stopped renting the office and thereafter she worked only from her home office in Cambridge.
From her home in Cambridge, she accesses a computer in the Washington, D.C. office of the firm that is designated for her use. She is thus able to use the firm’s computer network and access all programs used by the firm’s attorneys, including the internal firm email and firm time-keeping program. Thus, even though she is physically located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she works off of a computer and server located in Washington, D.C., and, just as when she physically worked in Washington, D.C., all of her correspondence is sent to the Washington, D.C. address and forwarded to her by the firm’s office staff. Clients communicate with her by calling the firm’s Washington, D.C. phone number which forwards those calls to her in Cambridge in the same manner as would be the case at an extension in the District of Columbia office. All of her outgoing client correspondence is sent from the D.C. office, and all court pleadings are also prepared for filing and filed from the District of Columbia office, unless she is filing a pleading electronically which she can do from Cambridge. Finally, she only meets with clients when she is in Washington, D.C., and she has traveled there several times over the past year to complete large projects and meet with clients.
The Court reviewed the six (6) non-exclusive factors enumerated in the Local Rule for making a determination of the principal law office of an attorney. The Court noted that:
In recent years, the concept of a “principal law office” has evolved somewhat as a result of significant advances in technology which provide an attorney with the flexibility to carry out a variety of activities at different locations and under varying circumstances. The term does not necessarily mean continuous physical presence but, at a minimum, it requires some physical presence sufficient to assure accountability of the attorney to clients and the court. Under the circumstances described by Ms. Carlton, there can be no question that for purposes of malpractice insurance coverage, tax obligations and client security trust fund obligations, her office is the office of her employer. In addition, the address utilized in pleadings, correspondence with clients, letterhead and other matters is also the address of her employer, which maintains a substantial physical presence in Washington, D.C. When meetings with clients are required, Ms. Carlton does meet with them in Washington, D.C. Her client files, accounting records and other business records, library and communication facilities such as telephone and fax service are all located in Washington, D.C. although, by virtue of advances in technology, she is able to access them remotely from Cambridge, Massachusetts.Finally, the Court concluded that:
Taking into consideration all of the circumstances described above, the Disciplinary and Admissions Committee has concluded that Ms. Carlton meets the requirements of Rule 701.1(a) and that her principal law office is in Washington, D.C. in accordance with the letter and spirit of Rule 701.1(e).The full opinion is available in PDF. The opinion has been approved for publication.