A bill, A.10425, sponsored by Assemblyman David Weprin is in the New York State Assembly to repeal an archaic century-old statute, New York Judiciary Law section 470, that requires attorneys based outside the state but licensed to practice within its boundaries have a physical brick-and-mortar establishment.

The court typically requires people to come in close contact with each other to carry out legal activities. Personal contact, which used to be essential in the courthouse, now pose unique and unprecedented challenges due to the pandemic.

Before physical and social distancing restrictions, the number of lawyers and workers that could congregate in one courtroom was often by the hundreds. In addition, jurors sat in close proximity just as lawyers sat in conference rooms with colleagues, clients, witnesses, and opposing counsels. 

These kinds of interactions now pose serious medical risks and must be avoided. Otherwise, strong safeguards are put into place.

Since the New York judiciary has made court sessions online, conducting research and finding court records, can now be done on electronic management systems maintained by the state or through third-party providers such as NewYork.courtrecords.org.  Thus, many attorneys say that since legal activities can be accomplished without being physically present, statute §470 has been made obsolete. 

In a letter to the New York Law Journal, Henry M. Greenberg, president of the New York State Bar Association, said “nearly 25% of New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) members reside or practice outside the state and we strongly support this measure.”

Section 470 of New York’s Judiciary Law was enacted in 1909 and states that an attorney may practice, even though he or she resides in an adjoining state if his office for the transaction of law business is within the state.

This effectively means that a lawyer admitted in New York, who resides in the state, is not required to have a brick-and-mortar office. He or she is deemed perfectly able to provide services to clients without such an office. 

However, a lawyer who lives just across the state line in Connecticut—or New Jersey, or Massachusetts, or Vermont, or Pennsylvania—is deemed to be unable to do the same.

Greenberg argues that technology has rendered these concerns obsolete, and so has subsequent law.

“Each year, many lawyers pass the New York bar examination at a fee of $250 or $750 if the applicant studies law in a foreign country. They also pay a biennial registration fee of $375 and comply with mandatory continuing legal education requirements,” said Greenberg.

Yet every year, lawyers from other states and countries admitted in New York are stymied from utilizing their New York law license by section 470, and as a result resign from the New York bar, depriving the state of much-needed revenue.”

He buttressed his point with New York Civil Practice Law and Rules §2103, which provides a mechanism for service outside New York State and said that an antiquated rule requiring a physical office in the state no longer serves any purpose.

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