Newly admitted NJ attorneys have three important requirements to maintain their eligibility to practice law in New Jersey: continuing legal education (CLE), bona fide office requirement, and the annual payment to the New Jersey Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection. It is important to note that CLE and office requirements are necessary to maintain one’s eligibility to practice law in New Jersey. See Newly Admitted Attorney letter signed by Secretary Mark Neary. Secretary Neary draws a distinction between maintaining eligibility to practice law and actually practicing law.
Continuing Legal Education
The rule requires attorneys to participate in 24 CLE hours during the 2-year period. Credit hour is defined as a 50 minutes of instructions. BCLE 103:1(j). 4 of these 24 hours must have ethics concentration. Additional requirements apply to newly admitted New Jersey attorneys. New NJ attorneys must obtain 15 credit hours in any five (5) of the following subjects:
- NJ basic estate administration
- NJ basic estate planning
- NJ civil or criminal trial preparation
- NJ family law practice
- NJ real estate closing procedures
- NJ trust and business accounting
- NJ landlord/tenant practice
- NJ municipal court practice
- NJ law office management
Only 1/2 CLE credit hours out of 24 required may be taken remotely, unless an attorney “neither works nor lives in a mandatory CLE jurisdiction.” At least 12 credits must be taken live with an instructor in the room.
According to this letter, if an attorney was admitted to NJ bar in 2012, her CLE requirement will begin on January 1, 2013. Newly admitted attorneys with birthdays from July 1 through December 31 have until December 31, 2014 to complete the above mentioned CLE requirements. The CLE compliance will then need to be certified in the 2015 annual attorney registration and billing process.
If attorney goes over 24 CLE hour limit, that lawyer may carryover only 12 credit hours. BCLE 201:3. Additionally, lawyers admitted in other jurisdictions will receive credit for CLEs completed in their jurisdictions under BCLE 201:4 reciprocity rules.
Bona Fide Office Requirement
This requirement is established under the Rule 1:21-1(a). The defines a bona fide office as “a place where clients are met, files are kept, the telephone is answered, mail is received and the attorney or a responsible person acting on the attorney’s behalf can be reached in person and by telephone during normal business hours to answer questions posed by the courts, clients or adversaries and to ensure that competent advice from the attorney can be obtained within a reasonable period of time.”
If one is out-of-state (NJ) attorney, the rule permits that person to maintain an office in “any other state, territory of the United States, Puerto Rico, or the District of Columbia.” However, the rule imposes an additional requirement on NJ barred attorneys who are (1) not domiciled in NJ and (2) do not have bona fide office in NJ. These attorneys must “designate the Clerk of the Supreme Court as agent upon whom service of process may be made for all actions ***.” The designation is made though a form available here.
New Jersey Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection Annual Fee
The fund is administered under Rule 1:28. A brief history of the fund can be read in this letter. The page dedicated to the fund can be accessed here. The rule requires that “each holder of a plenary license to practice law in the State of New Jersey shall pay annually to the treasurer of the Fund a sum that shall be determined each year by the Supreme Court.”
According to the letter and Rule 1:28-2(b)(1), newly admitted attorneys do not need to pay the fee for the calendar year in which they were admitted. However, they may still be required to register (and indicate whether exemption from payment applies).
In sum, annual client protection fee requirements are as follows:
- Each attorney must complete attorney registration and payment annually.
- Payment is required each year, before February 1, unless an attorney applies for and receives exemption.
- Failure to fulfill this obligation is followed by an Order of the Supreme Court declaring delinquent attorneys ineligible to practice law.
Banking / Financial Requirements
This requirement apparently applies to attorneys who stepped beyond mere “eligibility” to practice law into actual law practice. Rule 1:21-6(a) (“Every attorney who practices in this state shall maintain in a financial institution in New Jersey”). In its recent Opinion 45, Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law noted the definition of law practice: “The practice of law in New Jersey is not limited to litigation. . . . One is engaged in the practice of law whenever legal knowledge, training, skill, and ability are required.” Opinion 45, citing In re Jackman, 165 N.J. 580, 586 (2000). Thus, in light of Secretary Neary’s letter, the banking requirement does not seem to apply to those attorneys who merely wish to “maintain” their eligibility to practice law in New Jersey.
2 or More Bank Accounts Rule. Rule 1:21-6(a) imposes a requirement upon NJ practitioners to maintain a trust account designated as “‘Attorney Business Account,’ an ‘Attorney Professional Account,’ or an ‘Attorney Office Account.'” The trust account (if only one) should be designated as “IOLTA Attorney Trust Account.” Furthermore, NJ practitioner should also open “business account into which all funds received for professional services shall be deposited.”
Location Rule. Pursuant to Rule 1:21-6(b), the trust account (but not the “business account) must be maintained only in New Jersey financial institutions. These institutions must be approved by the Supreme Court. Latest list of institutions approved by NJ Supreme Court can be found here.
The letter states that “[e]ach member of the Bar is obliged to keep the Fund apprised of billing (mailing) address changes. You may write to the Fund at P.O. Box 961, Trenton, NJ 08625-0961 or fax a notice to (609) 394 3637.” The notification form is available online.