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OBA Ethics Counsel

Ethics Opinion No. 289

Adopted August 21, 1976

INQUIRY

"Whether an attorney who is not a member of the Oklahoma Bar Association, employed full time in Oklahoma by a corporation, may be designated as an attorney on the corporation's letterhead."

OPINION

In the case under consideration, an attorney admitted to practice in another State is a resident of Oklahoma, but is not a member of the Oklahoma Bar Association. The attorney is employed by a corporation engaged in business in Oklahoma. The attorney's full time is devoted to the business of the employer and she receives her entire compensation from her employer for her legal services.

These facts imply a more important threshold question:

Whether an attorney, resident in Oklahoma, admitted to practice in another State but not in Oklahoma, who is employed full time in rendering legal services to a corporation engaged in business in Oklahoma and who receives her entire compensation from the corporation, is engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.

This question must be answered in the affirmative.

Article II, Section 7(a), Rules Creating and Controlling the Oklahoma Bar Association, provides that:

"No attorney shall practice law in the State of Oklahoma who is not an active member of the Association, except as herein provided."

The Code of Professional Responsibility provides in DR 3-101(B) that:

"A lawyer shall not practice law in a jurisdiction where to do so would be in violation of regulations of the profession in that jurisdiction."

It is quite clear that the regulations of the profession in Oklahoma require that an attorney be admitted to the Bar of this State in order to practice law under the stated circumstances. Rule 2, Section 7, Rules Governing Admission to Practice of Law in the State of Oklahoma, makes special provisions for admission without examination in such cases:

"Any person who is admitted to the practice of law in another state who becomes a resident of Oklahoma to accept or continue employment by a person, firm, association or corporation engaged in business in Oklahoma, and whose full time is, or will be, devoted to the business of such employer, and who receives, or will receive his entire compensation from such employer for his legal services, may be granted a Special Temporary Permit to practice law in Oklahoma, without examination, so long as such person remains in the employ of, and receives compensation for legal services from no other source than, his said employer. Upon the termination of such employment, the right of such person to practice law in Oklahoma shall terminate unless such person shall have been admitted to the practice of law in this State pursuant to some other rule. ... No bar dues shall be payable for the year in which such Special Temporary Permit is issued but thereafter the holder shall pay bar dues in conformance with the Rules of the Supreme Court Creating, Controlling, and Regulating the Oklahoma Bar Association."

It follows a fortiori that it is improper for an attorney who is eligible for, but has not obtained, such a special temporary permit to be designated as an attorney on the letterhead of the attorney's employer. This is particularly so since the only evident purpose of such a designation is to hold out to all those receiving correspondence on the letterhead that the author is an attorney.

It is noted that the attorney in question had made application for a special temporary permit under Rule 2, Section 7, before the matter discussed above came to the attention of the Board of Governors. Nevertheless, the attorney should cease rendering legal services to her employer and using the letterhead designating her as an attorney until such time as the permit has issued or she has been admitted to practice in Oklahoma under some other rule.