California Bar Journal
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MJP panel provides an interim solution
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Michael RosterThe California MJP task force has provided a useful interim solution for practicing across state lines. Their report is evidence of a lot of thoughtful deliberation on a tough issue. Especially for in-house counsel, the ability to move attorneys from one corporate office to another is greatly facilitated. The irony is, in-house lawyers will continue doing the same thing, whether they are working out of the Atlanta regional office or the Los Angeles headquarters: drafting corporate documents; counseling on state and federal regulatory, tax, labor and similar matters; handling discovery and other phases of litigation; and working with outside counsel.

Legal practice for both in-house and outside counsel increasingly is via the internet and telephone, and the issues we address are typically nationwide, if not global. Our corporate clients often are chartered in Delaware, their stock is traded in New York and their issues arise from every state.

America created in 1787 a legal and economic system that is intentionally national in scope; the result has been the envy of the world. And yet, even as European lawyers now practice across national borders, we U.S. lawyers seem mired in issues that once may have been helpful, but today offer little benefit other than fostering economic protectionism. We are preserving a system in the name of professionalism that, if anything, is very unprofessional - assuming "professionalism" has as at least one of its tenets delivering the highest quality professional services that meet the client's professional needs.

Of course we need to protect consumers from unscrupulous lawyers, but in today's world, those protections would best be provided in the form of professional rules that take as their model other types of consumer protection laws. I hardly think Chevron needs MJP protection with respect to the lawyers it hires, whether they are in-house or outside. Chevron is a good judge of the services it receives, it knows when it needs local versus national expertise, and it has lots of ways to address any deficiencies. If the deficiencies affect third parties, the California courts and bar certainly can develop rules that allow the imposition of sanctions.

California is the world's fifth largest economy, and it will not do us well to be provincial in how we regulate legal services. I suspect if you asked both in-house and law firm attorneys what they do, the majority would find they are spending at least several hours a day with both people and issues that are out-of-state. The other professions seem to be able to accommodate a nationwide and global practice; now, let's see what the lawyers do.

Michael Roster is executive vice president and general counsel of Golden West Financial Corp. in Oakland and chair of the American Corporate Counsel Association.