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Unlicensed GC Raise Questions

An enterprising Wisconsin blog has discovered that the general counsel at at least four of the state's largest companies are not licensed to practice law there, raising questions about the bar-admission requirements of in-house lawyers everywhere. Michael Horne of the blog MilwaukeeWorld used online attorney licensing records to determine that the GC of Oshkosh Truck Corp., Briggs & Stratton Corp., Sensient Technologies Corp. and Robert W. Baird & Co. -- companies all headquartered in the state -- lack Wisconsin law licenses. It is a situation, the blog reports, that the executive director of the Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners plans to investigate.

"The consequences for Wisconsin-based corporations whose in-house counsel might lack Wisconsin licenses could be dire," blogger Horne writes, continuing:

"With such high stakes, it is confounding that attorneys who make a career of practicing in Wisconsin are too lazy or indifferent to get a license here. This is perplexing, since the state offers relatively simple access to license for qualifying attorneys. Wisconsin applies reciprocity: out-of-state attorneys who wish to practice in Wisconsin need only satisfy the same requirements their state demands for Wisconsin lawyers who chose to practice there."

At Oshkosh Truck, for example, Horne found that GC Bryan J. Blankfield is admitted in Illinois but not Wisconsin. Of the four other attorneys in his office, one is licensed in Wisconsin, one has a suspended Wisconsin license and two are unlicensed in the state.

Horne, who is not a lawyer, acknowledges that questions surrounding multijurisdictional practice by GC remain largely unanswered. In 2001, the American Bar Association's Ethics 2000 Commission proposed amending Rule 5.5 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct to create a "safe harbor" for in-house lawyers working in jurisdictions where they are not admitted. The recommendation was held in abeyance pending a report from the ABA's Commission on Multijurisdictional Practice. Its report contained no such safe harbor, and none exists in the current version of Rule 5.5.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on October 19, 2006 at 05:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)


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