One of the things I am seeing as a criminal defense lawyer in Washington is a proliferation of nationwide criminal defense law firms. Most of these law firms are headquartered in California, or some other state, and advertise heavily in Washington and other states using yellow pages advertisements and web sites that make them look like they have a local presence in Washington. These firms usually do not have partners or associates that are admitted to practice law in Washington, but instead take money from Washington residents for legal fees, and then hire a local lawyer for far less money to handle the case.
An example of one of these law firms is Liberty Bell Law Firm. Their advertisement in the pay per click section of Google indicates that they are Top Attorneys for Rape. Clicking to their website will take you to a nice looking website that encourages clients to call. They get around the fact that they don't have an office or attorneys licensed to practice law in Washington, by including the following disclaimer:
In a national law firm, the lawyers are not even admitted to practice in Washington state. It is impossible for them to practice law and provide services to a resident of the state of Washington, or to assume joint responsibility for the case. Therefore this type of arrangement violates the Rules of Professional Conduct in Washington state, and lawyers that associate with these national firms could face disciplinary charges. These firms attempt to get around these rules by arguing that the lawyers that they contract with are employees or members of the firms, but as discussed above, they are never featured or listed on law firm websites.
There is a way for an out-of-state attorney to practice in Washington state while being supervised by a local attorney, the process is call pro hac vice representation, and the out of state attorney would have to apply on a case by case basis to represent their client, and secure the services of a local attorney to supervise them. If this were done properly, it would be possible for a person to represent out of state defendants. I don't see these national law firms doing this though, since it would involve travel and too much expense for them to justify the costs, and would cut into their profits.
Think twice before hiring an out of state law firm! There are many great local lawyers in Washington who practice regularly in our courts. These lawyers know the local rules, customs, and practices of courts in their jurisdictions, and are your best choice when you need a criminal defense lawyer to assist you.
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