July 10, 2020

There is Low Risk in Working with a Lawyer Whose Admission is Pending

by Tom Zani, Columbus Bar Association

The pandemic forced the Ohio Supreme Court to postpone the July 2020 Bar Examination. Instead, a procedure that allows new lawyers to apply for temporary supervised practice status was created. This gave rise to a new concern in the legal community: what is the risk associated with hiring or working with attorneys whose admission is pending?

The good news is this practice is already embedded in the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, which allows third year law students working in clinical settings to seek a limited license to practice, as well as those attorneys working in legal aid offices coming from other states.

There are a variety of safeguards in place to protect clients, courts and employers. The new rule creates a limited expansion, and defines applicants to be a 2019 or 2020 graduate from an ABA-accredited law school. An applicant must have otherwise satisfied all requirements to sit for the bar exam.

The lawyer must practice under the supervision of an active Ohio attorney in good standing, who has been licensed for a minimum of three years, must not have failed a bar exam prior to the July 2020 exam, and must agree to be bound by the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct. Attorneys practicing pending admission must be covered by malpractice insurance.

Though a pending attorney can draft documents and provide service to clients, supervising attorneys must appear on any pleadings. The temporary practice period expires if the attorney withdraws their application to sit for the next bar exam, or if a pending attorney does not receive a passing score.

In addition, there are strict duties placed on supervising attorneys to provide support and guidance necessary to avoid pitfalls and foster confidence that a pending attorney is treating cases with the care and competence required by the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct. Clients have the same rights to make complaints where necessary against not only the pending attorney, but also the supervising attorney for failing to provide proper guidance.

Potential employers create no greater risk to their law practice or business by hiring a pending attorney because there will be little discernible difference between that attorney and any newly admitted attorney in terms of their overall preparedness. In fact, pending attorneys may better deliver competent services due to the oversight an experienced legal supervisor provides.


Zani
The lawyer must practice under the supervision of an active Ohio attorney in good standing, who has been licensed for a minimum of three years, must not have failed a bar exam prior to the July 2020 exam, and must agree to be bound by the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct.