In this new normal of working remotely, many lawyers have opted to relocate their home offices to more desirable climes, moving out of state to vacation homes in places where the sun shines and the beach is nearby.
One such destination for many lawyers has been Florida, and now a decision from the Florida Supreme Court provides guidance on the ethics of an out-of-state lawyer practicing remotely from within the Sunshine State.
The Feb. 17 decision, In Re: Amendments to Rule Regulating the Florida Bar 4-5.5, effectively codifies in Florida’s professional conduct rules what had already been decided by way of an earlier ethics opinion.
The earlier ethics opinion involved Thomas Restaino, a New Jersey lawyer who was working from his Florida home for a New Jersey law firm solely on federal intellectual property matters.
In May 2021, the Supreme Court adopted an advisory opinion proposed by The Florida Bar concluding that Restaino’s work did not constitute the unlicensed practice of law.
After adopting that opinion, the Supreme Court asked the bar to consider amending the state’s professional conduct rules to identify the circumstances under which an out-of-state licensed attorney may work remotely from Florida.
The bar responded with proposed changes, which the Supreme Court adopted in its opinion last week.
The primary change was to the comment to Rule 4-5.5 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, pertaining to the unlicensed practice of law.
Under that rule, a lawyer not admitted in Florida is considered to be engaged in unauthorized practice if the lawyer establishes an office or other regular presence for the practice of law there.
But the change approved last week adds language to the comment to clarify the situation of a lawyer working remotely:
For purposes of this rule, a lawyer licensed in another United States jurisdiction does not have a regular presence in Florida for the practice of law when the lawyer works remotely while physically located in Florida for an extended period of time if the lawyer works exclusively on non-Florida matters, and neither the lawyer nor any firm employing the lawyer holds out to the public as having a Florida presence. See Fla. Bar re Advisory Opinion—Out-of-State Att’y Working Remotely from Fla. Home, 318 So. 3d 538 (Fla. 2021).
Florida’s rule on lawyers working remotely is consistent with the approaches taken by other states that have considered the issue. I summarized several of these in a post last September: Pandemic-Related Legal Ethics Opinions: A Compendium.
So grab your laptop and flip-flops and rest assured that you can ethically work pool-side or sea-side in Florida.