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September 14, 2003

New Jersey High Court Tears Down Anticompetitive “Bona Fide Office” Wall

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 11:36 pm

Over the objections of the state bar association, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued an administrative ruling on September 10, 2003, that will permit New Jersey bar-admitted attorneys without a bona fide office in the state to practice law there — suspending Rule 1:21-1(a) for a three-year trial period.   As the New York Law Journal reports (“New Jersey Rule on Law Practice Is Suspended,” by Asher Hawkins and Tamara Loomis, 09-15-2003):

“Previously, New Jersey’s ‘bona fide office rule’ prohibited otherwise eligible lawyers from handling business in the state unless they established in New Jersey a staffed office that received mail and stored files, as opposed to using an empty office or answering service to practice in the state.”

The Court followed the recommendations of an advisory committee which had noted (emphasis added): 

“The requirement that a lawyer maintain a bona fide office in New Jersey does not recognize that technology, when used effectively, can substitute for proximity, and that a lawyer’s office in Delaware, Pennsylvania, or New York may be just as accessible by such means as an office in New Jersey.”

You can judge for yourself whether the opposition of the New Jersey State Bar Association is sincere client-protection or simply a self-serving attempt to prevent competition from New York and Pennsylvania law firms.  The NYLJ  notes that NJBA was “disappointed” in the Court’s action: 

“We remain concerned that the new rule will have an adverse impact on the ability of the New Jersey public to obtain quality legal representation from lawyers who are familiar with the customs of New Jersey practice, who are available to meet with clients at a convenient location, and who are accountable not just to clients but to their community and the courts,” a statement from New Jersey State Bar President Karol Corbin Walker said.

New Jersey legal consumers, now put at risk by the freedom to choose NJ bar members located in distant places (like NYC and Philadelphia), can take comfort in bar president Walker’s press release, in which she pledged that “we will take a vigilant role in monitoring the impact and efficacy of the pilot rule on the delivery of legal services to the New Jersey public.”


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