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Law licensing getting easier in other states

By GREGORY D. KESICH,
Portland Press Herald Writer
November 29, 2004

Competition between law firms in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont is expected to get hotter after the states change the rules for how they license lawyers.

As of Jan. 1, courts in the three states will allow some out-of-state lawyers to be admitted to the bar without taking the bar exam, under a reciprocal admission agreement.

Members of Maine's legal community expect the new rules to make it easier for Maine law firms to keep corporate clients who expand their businesses into other states. The rules also are likely to make it easier for Maine's firms to compete for regional business against more expensive New York and Boston law firms.

"Maine firms offer a terrific value," said Charles E. Miller, managing partner at Portland-based Bernstein Shur Sawyer & Nelson. "We have senior litigators and provide complex services at rates that are almost half of what big-city firms charge."

The change to the bar rules comes as Maine's biggest firms increasingly are venturing across state borders to look for work. Portland-based Pierce Atwood recently opened an office in Portsmouth, N.H., and Verrill & Dana has announced plans to open a four-lawyer office in Boston.

Bernstein Shur has an office in Manchester, N.H., and Preti Flaherty Beliveau Pachios & Haley has one in Concord, N.H.

At the same time, New Hampshire firms have opened offices in Maine, including Gallagher Callahan & Gartell, an environmental law firm that has opened an office in Augusta.

Under current bar rules, a lawyer from Maine, New Hampshire or Vermont who wanted to represent a client in one of the other two states would have to take the bar exam there to get a license.

In many cases, that is not practical, Miller says. Lawyers who have developed an expertise in one area of the law, such as real estate, might not be ready to pass a demanding test on criminal procedure or the tax code.

The current system also means that when a client business expands out of state, it may either have to pay for an affiliated local counsel to work with its Maine attorney, or find a new lawyer in the other state.

Applications to practice in Maine must be approved by a justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. The licenses are contingent on Maine lawyers getting the same treatment in the other two states.

"This will allow us to serve our clients in other states and will make it easier for law firms from other states to set up shop here," said Miller of Bernstein Shur. "It's going to give the public significantly more choice and more competition, and there is nothing wrong with that."

The new rules were approved by the state supreme court on Nov. 18.

 
GETTING LICENSED

Under the new rule, a lawyer from any of the three states can apply for the right to practice in one of the other states by taking 15 hours of continuing education in the laws of that state.

Applicants must be licensed and actively practicing more than three years in their home state.

People who were disbarred or resigned from practicing in Maine are not eligible to apply for a license here. Neither are out-of-state lawyers who have failed the Maine bar exam in the previous five years.

To top of story

Rules heat up competition for attorneys
November29,2004

PORTLAND (AP) - A new set of rules for how the three northern New England states license lawyers could promote competition among law firms in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Maine's supreme court approved the rules earlier this month.

As of January 1, courts in the three states will allow some out-of-state lawyers to be admitted to the bar without taking the bar exam, under a reciprocal admission agreement.

Some Maine attorneys say that could make it easier for Maine law firms to keep corporate clients who expand their businesses into other states.

They also are likely to make it easier for Maine's firms to compete for regional business against more expensive New York and Boston law firms.

Under current bar rules, a lawyer from Maine, New Hampshire or Vermont who wants to represent a client in one of the other two states would have to take the bar exam there to get a license.