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New rules allow corporate counsel to provide pro bono service

Supreme Court
Public Information Office

Published: April 10, 2015

The Ohio Supreme Court has approved rule changes to allow corporate attorneys to provide pro bono legal service.

A series of changes to Attorney Registration have been proposed as amendments to Rule VI of the Rules for the Government of the Bar of Ohio. While the court is still considering some suggested changes to the rule, it approved amendments to expand the scope of practice for corporate attorneys and permit them to provide pro bono legal services through a qualified legal aid organization. The court also adopted the Ohio State Bar Association’s proposed change to Rule 5.5 of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct to make the Attorney Registration and Professional Conduct Rules consistent.

The new rules took effect April 1.

The rules include

• Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Eligibility

Currently, corporate status attorneys may provide legal services only to their employer and cannot appear before an Ohio tribunal on behalf of anyone except their employer or themselves unless permitted to do so by the tribunal.

The rule allows corporate attorneys to provide pro bono legal services to persons of limited means or a charitable organization if the legal services are assigned by the entities enumerated in the rule.

To acknowledge this change in practice, Rule 5.5 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, regarding the unauthorized practice of law, has been changed to note that corporate attorneys may provide pro bono legal services.

• Corporate Counsel Eligibility

The new rule permits attorneys admitted to practice law in “a United States territory” to be eligible to apply for corporate registration status. Currently the rule limits corporate registration status to attorneys admitted in at least one other state or the District of Columbia, but does not include U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico.

• Corporate Counsel Registration Requirements

Five provisions have been adopted to clarify and verify corporate counsel status.

1. Under the rule, corporate counsel status is reserved for those attorneys whose employer’s business must be lawful and consist of “activities other than the practice of law or the provision of legal services.” This is to clarify that an out-of-state attorney who may be employed by an Ohio law firm may not seek

2. An attorney seeking corporate status must provide a certificate of good standing in all jurisdictions in which the attorney is admitted. The current rule requires a certificate from the jurisdiction in which the attorney is admitted, but it does not specifically require that the attorney submit a certificate from all jurisdictions in which an attorney may have been admitted. The rule also requires that an attorney demonstrate that the attorney is on active status in at least one other jurisdiction.

3. To independently verify an attorney’s corporate status, the rule requires the attorney submit an affidavit from the employing entity attesting to the attorney’s employment, date of commencement of employment and capacity in which the attorney is employed.

4. The amendment rule places in the corporate counsel section the obligation of corporate status attorneys to register biennially and comply with continuing legal education requirements similar to active attorneys. This is not a new requirement, but the current obligations are scattered throughout parts of the Rules of the Government of the Bar. The change also establishes that corporate attorneys are subject to all rules and requirements related to the practice of law in Ohio, including the Rules of Professional Conduct.

5. The rule now states that corporate status attorneys may perform legal services for “the employing entity or its organizational affiliates; including entities that control, are controlled by, or are under common control with the employer; and for employees, officers, and directors of such entities, but only on matters directly related to the attorney’s work for the entity.”

• Corporate Counsel Termination

A corporate attorney now must notify the Office of Attorney Services within 10 days of certain events including termination of the attorney’s employment that was the basis for corporate registration, a change in status in another jurisdiction, or the imposition of discipline against the attorney.

The change clarifies that corporate registration is automatically terminated upon the occurrence of certain events, including termination of employment or the admission to practice of law in Ohio. Corporate registration would also be terminated if the attorney is no longer registered for active status in at least one state, the District of Columbia, or a U.S. territory, or if the attorney is not in good standing, suspended or disbarred in a jurisdiction in which the attorney is admitted to practice law.