Ethic Rules Gone Wrong: Good Deeds Getting Punished in Minnesota

A Colorado licensed lawyer is facing the prospect of losing his bar license for the unlicensed practice of law in Minnesota. Only, he’s not practised law in the state at all or even visited his so-called clients within the state. Instead, he seems to have fallen victim to an overzealous state judiciary and an opposition lawyer with a late, late finding of a moral compass.

Let’s rewind and see what happened. The unnamed Colorado lawyer’s in-laws lived in Minnesota and had a problem with debt collection. With 30 years of practicing law in Colorado under his belt, the lawyer agreed to help them by emailing opposing counsel to try to resolve the dispute.

At first, the opposing counsel tried to get assurances that the Colorado lawyer was licensed to practice in Minnesota, which he was not. However, the lawyer said he’d retain local counsel should the dispute come to court. Over a 6 month period, they exchanged a dozen emails before the opposing counsel notified the lawyer that he’d be filing an ethics complaint. No action has been taken against the counsel for taking so long to file the complaint, but it can only be assumed he was losing the argument or needed time to find enough precedent to file the complaint.

This has led to a dispute between the Colorado Lawyer and various reviews and courts within Minnesota as to what constitutes practising law in the state. For the record, the Colorado lawyer never left the state to practice law, only conducted emails, and did not step foot in any court as part of the debt collection dispute.

However, as far as the Minnesota Supreme Court is concerned, he violated legal ethics and practised law in Minnesota just by emailing someone regarding a legal matter within the state. This flimsy finding was backed up by Birbower v. Superior Court whereby a New York lawyer was found guilty of practising law in California despite not living there. However, the difference is that Birbower visited California several times to meet interested parties in his case, unlike the Colorado lawyer who remained in his own state.

The Minnesota legal system has now set a dangerous precedent whereby relatives of interested parties who happen to be lawyers licensed in other states cannot consult or attempt email arbitration with opposition lawyers for fear of being disbarred.

 

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