Title III, Division 3, Chapter 1, Article 2 of the California Rules of the State Bar and Rule 9.46 of the California Rules of Court allow eligible out-of-state attorneys employed in California to practice law without going through the formal process of being admitted to the California Bar. There is no limitation on the number of years an attorney can register as California house counsel.
Registered In-House Attorneys must:
- Be members in good standing in each jurisdiction where the member is licensed to practice law.
- Remain an active member in good standing in at least one United States’ state, jurisdiction, possession, territory, or dependency other than California while practicing law as a registered legal services attorney in California.
- Cannot be disbarred, have resigned with charges pending, or suspended in any other jurisdiction.
- Meet the applicable character and fitness standards. Attorneys may practice law while awaiting the determination of moral character.
- Meet the minimum Continuing Legal Education requirements. Attorneys must also satisfy in his or her first year of practice all of the 25-hour MCLE that California Bar members must complete every three years. This includes four hours of legal ethics, on hour of prevention, detection, and treatment of substance abuse, and one hour of eliminating bias in the legal profession. There is no Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam requirement.
Practice and Restrictions
Attorneys must practice exclusively for a single qualifying institution. Attorneys may also practice as California Registered Legal Service Attorneys simultaneously.
The following restrictions apply:
- Attorneys are not permitted to make court appearances in California state courts or to engage in any other activities for who California Pro Hac Vice admission is required if the appearances are performed in California by an attorney who is not a member of the California Bar.
- Attorneys cannot provide personal or individual representation to any customers, shareholders, owners, partners, officers, employees, servants, or agents of the qualifying institution.
- Attorneys may use the title “Registered In-House Counsel” and no other in connection with performed activities.
- Attorneys cannot claim to be members of the California Bar in any way.
- Attorneys must maintain with the California Bar a current address that is the California office address for the attorney’s employer and maintain a current email address.
A “qualifying institution” is a corporation, partnership, association, or other legal entity, including subsidiaries and organizational affiliates. Government entities and entities that provide legal services to others do not qualify. A qualifying institution must:
- Employ at least 10 employees full time in California; or
- Employ in California an attorney who is an active member in good standing of the California Bar.
Qualifying institutions are required to complete a Declaration of Qualifying Institution. Employers must report to the California Bar, within 30 days, that a house counsel attorney no longer meets the requirements of Rule of Court 9.46(a).
Attorneys are required to submit:
- A Declaration of Qualifying Institution signed by an officer, a director, or a general counsel of the applicant’s employer, on behalf of the applicant’s employer, that states:
- The applicant is employed as an attorney for the employer.
- The nature of employment conforms to the requirement of the house counsel rules.
- The employer will notify the California Bar within 30 days of the cessation of the applicant’s employment in California.
- The person signing the declaration believes, to the best of his her knowledge after reasonable inquiry, that the applicant qualifies for registration under these house counsel rules and is an individual of good moral character.
- An Attorney Declaration to the California Bar that he or she will be subject to the disciplinary authority of the California Supreme Court and the California Bar. The Declaration must attest that he or she will not practice law in California other than on behalf of the qualifying institution.
Reporting and Renewal
Registered house counsel attorneys must:
- Annually renew their registrations and submit the applicable fees.
- Report to the California bar within 30 days any of the following:
- Changes in status in any jurisdiction where admitted to practice law and engaged in the practice of law, transfer to inactive status, disciplinary action, suspension, resignation, disbarment, or a functional equivalent.
- Termination of employment; or
- Any information required by the State Bar Act, such as those required by §§ 6068(o) and 6086.8(c) of the California Business and Professions Code, or by other legal authority.
Attorneys are required to submit a new application before beginning employment with a new qualifying legal services provider.
Suspension of Registration
Registration is suspended upon:
- Failure to annually register and submit any related fee and penalty;
- Failure to comply with the MCLE requirements and to pay any related fee and penalty;
- Transfer to inactive status, disciplinary action, suspension, resignation, disbarment, or a functional equivalent in status in any jurisdiction where admitted to practice law;
- Imposition of discipline by a professional or occupational licensing authority; or
- Failure to comply with these rules or with the laws or standards of professional conduct applicable to a California Bar member.
Attorneys suspended for failure to comply with annual registration requirements may be reinstated upon compliance. Notices of suspension are effective upon physical delivery or ten days from the date of receipt. Receipt is deemed to be five days from the date of mailing to a California address, 10 days for any address outside of California, and 20 days outside of the United States.
If the attorney leaves the position or changes employers, he or she must notify the California Bar within 30 days. Attorneys must register as house counsel for any new employer.
Termination of Registration
Registered attorneys may practice so long as he or she remains employed by the same qualifying institution that provided the Declaration of Qualifying Institution.
Termination also occurs upon:
- The failure to meet the eligibility requirements;
- Admission to the California Bar;
- Upon repeal or termination of the Registered In-House Counsel Program; or
Attorneys meeting the eligibility and application requirements may re-apply.