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Revised Pro Hac Vice rule makes life easier for Illinois judges

6/23/2017

June 23 , 2017

How can life be made easier for the judges of our State?

One way that made life better was to revise the pro hac vice rule. No longer do judges have to hear motions from out-of-state counsel to appear on Illinois cases. Courts need not take time to review such lawyer requests or question the degree to which those lawyers are simply avoiding the admission rules. That job has now passed to the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission (“ARDC”). The rule has been revised to grant immediate authorization to lawyers from other jurisdictions by rule upon the filing of a document entitled, “Verified Statement.” Out-of-state lawyers now must also register and pay fees to be authorized to temporarily handle cases in this State.

With advances in technology and the ease of information portability, interest in cross-border practice has increasingly become a concern for many attorneys and law firms. Prior to July 1, 2013, out-of-state attorneys seeking to handle a court case in Illinois were required to file a motion and obtain permission from the judge presiding over the matter. At that time, the decision to allow representation of clients by out-of-state attorneys, in accordance with Supreme Court Rule 707, was a matter strictly within the discretion of the court hearing the case. With rare exceptions, the only information available to the judges making those decisions was that which the lawyer himself voluntarily presented. It was, of course, possible for the judge to require production of detailed information or documentation, such as proof of admission in another state or a list of cases that the attorney had already been permitted to handle in Illinois. The time required for gathering and evaluating this type of information, however, frequently weighed against such court oversight. Without a required list of questions to be answered or documents to be tendered, it was thus possible for judges to unknowingly permit out-of-state lawyers to handle cases while the attorneys were on suspension in one or more jurisdictions. It was also possible for the out-of-state attorney to skirt the Illinois admission rules by handling a large number of court cases in various Illinois counties or before different judges in the same county without detection of the magnitude of the out-of-state attorney’s practice in this State by the judge scrutinizing the pro hac vice motion.

As of July 1, 2013, amendments to Supreme Court Rule 707 became effective, dramatically altering the state’s method of granting authorization to out-of-state attorneys to handle individual cases in Illinois. The name of the rule was revised from Pro Hac Vice to Permission for an Out of-State Attorney to Provide Legal Services in Proceedings in Illinois. Substantively, the rule changes essentially granted immediate temporary permission to eligible lawyers from other jurisdictions to handle specific Illinois proceedings upon the filing of an appearance and verified statement with the clerk of the tribunal where the case is pending. If a case is pending in the Circuit Court of Cook County, for example, an out-of-state attorney is now authorized to handle the matter as soon as he files his appearance and verified statement with the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court. The same rule would apply in administrative proceedings requiring pro hac vice admission, and, in fact, has been applied in connection with out-of-state attorneys seeking to represent Respondents in ARDC proceedings. To be eligible, the out-of-state attorney must be admitted to practice “without limitation” in another jurisdiction (which may be a foreign country), must not have entered appearances in more than six matters in a calendar year, must not have been enjoined from obtaining permission in Illinois, and must not have been previously admitted generally or conditionally in Illinois. If the attorney has been prohibited from practicing in any jurisdiction due to suspension, disbarment, resignation with charges pending, or permanent retirement, he would not be eligible for permission to practice under Rule 707. The required verified statement to be filed must include: the name and address of a local counsel who accepts responsibility for the case; the client’s name; a listing of all Illinois cases previously handled by the attorney during the same calendar year; a listing of all jurisdictions where the attorney has been admitted to practice law, with letters of good standing from each of those jurisdictions; a description of any office or presence in Illinois; a promise to adhere to the Illinois rules; and a certificate of service showing service of the statement upon all parties entitled to notice, including the ARDC.

The new Rule 707 relieved judges of the responsibility for vetting out-of-state attorneys for the purpose of granting temporary authorization to practice law. The ARDC was effectively appointed as the gatekeeper of temporary permission to practice in the sense that the screening of verified statements was delegated to the Commission. If an ineligible attorney files a verified statement and commences handling a matter, or he later becomes ineligible after previously appearing in a matter, the ARDC is responsible for filing a motion to have that attorney removed as counsel from the cases being handled. This has happened with two different attorneys since July 2013, and the ARDC’s motions to have the attorneys removed were filed and granted in each instance. Many other attorneys have inquired with the ARDC about temporary admission under Supreme Court Rule 707 before filing verified statements and were informed of their ineligibility before submitting appearances or verified statements.

For individual out-of-state attorneys seeking temporary permission to handle matters in Illinois and their clients, the amended rules provide expediency. An attorney can file and serve his appearance and verified statement one day and begin working on the matter the next. There is no longer a delay while awaiting the scheduling of a hearing or the possibility of continuances before authorization to practice law in a particular case is officially granted or denied.

Finally, not only has revised Rule 707 eased the burden placed on the judiciary to screen temporary admissions in particular matters, and made the process more expeditious, but it has also raised revenue for the Illinois Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission, which funds programs for low-income and disadvantaged Illinois residents and legal aid organizations in the state. Each out-of-state attorney that submits a verified statement (other than those excepted for various reasons like the representation of indigent defendants or those representing no-profit legal services organizations) is required to register and pay an annual registration fee of $121 for each year that he is actively handling Illinois cases. The out-of-state attorneys must also pay a per-proceeding fee of $250 for each case handled. From each per-proceeding fee paid, $175 is remitted to a trust fund operated by the Access to Justice Commission. In total, from 2013 through 2016, 3,380 per-proceeding fees have been paid by out-of-state attorneys, and a total of $535,036 has been paid from such proceeds to the Access to Justice Commission. Last year alone, $190,988 was delivered to the Access to Justice Commission. This source of revenue has helped provide resources for a cause that has experienced severe funding cuts in recent times.

In summary, the amended version of Supreme Court Rule 707 has permitted oversight of out-of-state attorney representation of clients in Illinois without interfering with the client’s choice of counsel. It has facilitated an evaluation of the credentials of non-Illinois attorneys from a broader perspective, avoiding the more difficult and time consuming process of using individual judges to inquire of such attorneys on a case by case basis. At the same time, the revised method has granted out-of-state attorneys immediate authorization by rule to handle limited matters in this State, and it has provided the Court with an additional source of funding for legal services for those who may not otherwise be able to afford such assistance.

Most importantly, life is easier for the judges of our State.