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Texas Supreme Court advisory
Thursday, October 14, 2010

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Court Grants Limited-Practice Privilege to Military Lawyers Not Licensed in Texas
Practice-rules amendment focuses on assisting lower-rank service members, dependents who need legal assistance for certain civil matters

In an order posted Thursday the Supreme Court of Texas has amended law-practice rules to allow military attorneys stationed in Texas but licensed elsewhere to represent military service members or their dependents in limited matters in state courts or tribunals.

The new rule, limited to enlisted military personnel in grade E-4 and below or their immediate family members, takes effect Friday. It allows military attorneys licensed and in good standing in other states, the District of Columbia or U.S. territories to register with the Texas Board of Legal Examiners.

Under the program, military attorneys would be limited to representing clients in select civil proceedings, but not criminal matters.

Military attorneys cannot be paid in these cases and, before undertaking a legal representation under the rule, must obtain approval from a supervising military attorney. In some instances, approval must come from the Judge Advocate General of the Army, Navy, Coast Guard or Air Force or the Staff Judge Advocate to the Marine Corps Commandant. Representation of military personnel’s family members will be approved only upon a determination that the family members would face a substantial financial hardship without the military attorney’s representation.

“This effort is another step by the Court to help people without financial resources find legal help when they might otherwise go without,” Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson said. “The common legal problems these military personnel and their families face are beyond the reach of legal-aid organizations, which are facing their own financial struggles.”

The registration rule – Rule XXII of the Rules Governing Admission to the Bar of Texas – follows a proposal in the 2009 legislative session by state Sen. Judith Zaffarini of Laredo and a model rule by the American Bar Association.

“The Supreme Court's military limited-practice rule will complement the State Bar's initiative, Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans,” said Terry Tottenham of Austin, State Bar president, “and better enable our service members to receive the necessary legal assistance they deserve, and have earned, through their sacrifices in defense of our country.”

Don Guter, president and dean of South Texas College of Law and chair of the ABA’s Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel, said Texas was a priority for his committee’s efforts to find ways to help lower-grade military personnel.

“They really don’t have that much access to legal help,” Guter said. “This I going to be a tremendous help to military servicemen and women in Texas.”

Military attorneys registered under the rule would pay a $25 annual application fee and be required to complete 15 hours of continuing-legal education course work within the first year, three hours of which must be ethics credit. In each subsequent year registered military attorneys would have to complete three hours’ ethics credit.

They will be subject to Texas disciplinary rules and laws. The limited-practice privilege would end when the military attorney leaves the service or is transferred out of Texas.

Order

The practice of a military attorney under this rule shall be subject to the limitations and restrictions of 10 U.S.C. § 1044 and the regulations of that attorney’s military service and shall be further limited to:

            (a)        cases arising under all Titles, except Title 3, of the Family Code;
(b)        guardianships;
(c)        landlord-tenant disputes on behalf of tenants;
(d)       consumer-law cases on behalf of consumers;
(e)        garnishment defenses;
(f)        estate planning and probate matters;
(g)        enforcement of rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act;
(h)        enforcement of rights under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act; and
(i)         other cases within the discretion of the court or tribunal before which the civil proceeding is pending, provided that written permission of the court or tribunal is obtained in advance of the appearance.