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Performing Pro Bono Legal Work in the District of Columbia

Rule 49: Performing Pro Bono Legal Work in the District of Columbia

Rule 49 of the D.C. Court of Appeals rules discusses the unauthorized practice of law in D.C. courts. Rule 49(c)(9)(C) provides that federal government attorneys can handle matters in D.C. courts under certain circumstances. This provision was put into the rule with encouragement from the Department in 1996, and incorporated into a full-scale amendment to the rule in early 1998.

The rule was intended to make it possible for government lawyers who are not D.C. bar members to represent pro bono clients in D.C. courts. It requires that they be members of another bar, that they have gotten the case from a pro bono legal services organization (so that this ability to appear is not used to represent friends and relatives) and that they be "under the supervision of" a D.C. bar member. The supervision requirement is not defined, but is, according to the Chair of the Committee on Unauthorized Practice of Law, Stuart Pierson, intended to be general oversight, and not day-to-day involvement and not to require appearance in court. The Committee on Unauthorized Practice is a committee of the D.C. courts. It handles complaints under the rule, and on occasion, has issued opinions about the meaning of the rule. Opinion 3-98 clarifies that appearances under the rule do not require a pro hac vice motion to be filed, but do require the completion of a Certificate of Practice Pro Bono Publico.

District of Columbia Court of Appeals Rule 49 (Unauthorized Practice of Law) D.C. Bar Rule 49(c) provides: The following activity in the District of Columbia is excepted from the prohibitions of section (a) of this Rule, provided the person is not otherwise engaged in the practice of law or holding out as authorized or competent to practice law in the District of Columbia: . . . . (9) Pro Bono Legal Services. Providing legal services pro bono publico in the following circumstances: . . . . (C) Where the person is an officer or employee of the United States, is a member in good standing of the highest court of a state or territory, and is assigned or referred by an organization that provides legal services to the public without a fee; provided that the person is supervised by an enrolled, active member of the District of Columbia Bar. Procedure for Pro Bono Practice by Non-D.C. Bar Members Under the amended Unauthorized Practice of Law Rule (Rule 49(c)(9)(C)) that permits federal government lawyers who are not D.C. Bar members to do pro bono work in D.C. under certain conditions, a Certification of Practice Pro Bono Publico needs to be completed by non-D.C. Bar members.