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Arlington Losing Millions Due to Restrictive Va. Lawyer Rules

by ARLnow.com July 23, 2010 at 12:10 pm 3,679 22 Comments

Arlington is missing out on millions of dollars worth of annual tax revenue because of overly restrictive rules governing how lawyers are admitted to the Virginia Bar, according to a new report by Arlington Economic Development.

AED says that Arlington could be a very attractive location for major law firms. After all, real estate rates in Arlington are significantly lower than K Street and the other prime DC environs currently favored by large firms. Plus, a higher concentration of lawyers live in Arlington than the District, according to AED.

However, a tough written exam is required for admission into the Virginia Bar, even for lawyers already licensed in Florida, California, Maryland and, in many cases, DC. By contrast, the DC Bar only requires a simple application to admit lawyers from states like Florida, California and Maryland. AED says that gives DC firms a big recruiting advantage over Virginia firms, and precludes Arlington from serious consideration as a destination for major law firms.

Membership in the Virginia Bar is required in order to practice law in the Commonwealth.

AED is calling on Virginia’s Board of Bar Examiners to consider ways to adjust the rules, which are set by the Virginia Supreme Court but administered by the Board.

“Both Arlington County and the Commonwealth of Virginia would have a significant positive net fiscal impact from some adjustments to the rules governing admission to membership in the Virginia Bar,” AED said in its report.

The organization estimates that if Arlington could attract one out of every five DC firms with leases expiring over the next ten years, it could bring a tax windfall: nearly $4 million per year for Arlington, and $500,000 per year for the state.

  • GK

    This is ridiculous. So, what they want is for the VA bar to lower itself to DC standards… thus negating the fact that it is prestigious for an attorney to have successfully passed the VA Bar… like NY, and CA. So the county can then reap the tax revenue and… blow it. Meanwhile the tax rates continue to rise for all the other home owners, some of which are being priced out of their homes if they are on fixed incomes. The sooner we can vote these bozos out of office the better.

    • TGEoA

      Yeah, but these overpriced lawyers would blow tons of cash in the Clarendon bars.

  • Lou

    I was not aware that Arlington has such a problem with commercial vacancy rates that they need to pester Richmond with requests like this.

  • AE

    There are several things either this post or the AED article fail to realize:(1) Many of the law firms in D.C. already have Northern Virginia offices in Fairfax and McLean; (2) Membership into the D.C. Bar is required to practice law in D.C. and membership is not guaranteed even if you passed the bar in another state; and (3) Most states have very strict waive in requirements or do not allow attorneys from other states to waive in, D.C. is the exception not Virginia.

    • AED does mention the existence of branch offices in the Tysons area, but says that they’re looking to attract the primary DC offices of the large firms.

      • BEE

        DC firms are located in DC for a REASON. Very unlikely that a firm’s office located blocks from federal agencies and courts will want to move out to Virginia – where they already have a presence. What a dumb idea from AED.

    • TGEoA

      Very true. In addition states have reciprocity agreements and some none at all. For example Florida doesn’t waive anyone into their bar in order to prevent all of the aging lawyers from coming down and practicing in their golden years.

      As a consequence other states retaliate and refuse to waive Florida bar members. In most cases it diddly poo to the standards of the bar exam, but money.

  • DontTreadOnMe

    We need less lawyers, not more. Lawyers are ruining this country!

  • DontTreadOnMe

    We need less lawyers, not more. Lawyers are ruining this country.

  • Greg

    Those conclusions are pretty questionable.

    This probably has less to do with the bar requirements and more to do with just having “DC” on the firm letterhead.

    There are plenty of DC firms with offices in Tysons. Why isn’t Arlington getting that business?

    Also, you can’t practice law at all in DC unless you have a DC bar — even if you don’t practice in DC courts. I’m not sure that’s true in Virginia. I see quite a few attorneys located in VA who aren’t barred here. You can’t appear in a Virginia court, but can you not practice law at, say, the FDA from a Virginia office unless you also have a Virginia bar?

    • AE

      Actually most federal government agencies only require you to be barred in any of the 50 states, not necessarily the one you practice in.

      • Greg

        Right. You can practice before law at the Federal government with a bar license from any state. But if your office is in DC, DC requires you to have a DC license. Even if you never appear in DC Court (which 99% of DC lawyers don’t).

        I’m not sure Virginia has the same Rule. In other words, I think you might be able to have a purely Federal practice from a Virginia office with no Virginia bar license as long as you never appear in Virginia court. I’m not sure about that though.

        If true, the AED’s conclusion is just plain wrong.

        • TGEoA

          The same is true for almost every state. If you “practice” then you have to be licensed. Basically if you provide counsel and sign your name then you are acting as an officer of the court.

        • Greg

          Here is a link to a Virginia Bar decision basically saying you can have the type of Federal practice I describe in Virginia without a Virginia license. There are a few hoops to jump through but I don’t see this as being in any way a deterrent to having a major firm office in Virginia.

          If anything, Virginia appears to be more lenient than DC, which would not allow the type of practice described without a DC bar license. The AED study seems seriously flawed.


          Maybe someone know if this is still the current interpretation of the rule.

  • Pettifogger

    This is absurd. It presumes that DC firms WANT to have a Virginia practice–which they don’t. Large DC firms (which are almost all large national or international firms) have largely federal practices for a reason: Clients with smaller state court cases don’t want to pay the high hourly rates of large national firms, because it doesn’t make economic sense based on the amount in controversy. Those DC firms that want a Virginia presence (because it fits their business model) already do have that presence: They’re all in Tysons. Large DC firms that want to practice in federal court in Virginia do exactly that–they have plenty of VA barred attorneys in their DC office. But they aren’t going to move out of DC because MOST of their work, and most of their clients, are in the city.

    This might be the dumbest thing I’ve read all week (the AED study, not arlnow’s reporting on it).

  • MB

    I understand the general premise of their case, but I think it doesn’t really grasp the underlying reasons for the current situation (the inherently anti-competitive nature of bar admissions, the unique situation of federal practices in DC, etc.). Or if it does, it doesn’t make the case terribly well. And yes, as noted above, DC is the outlier in its practices, not VA. In any event, I bet Arlington still greatly benefits from all these DC offices – b/c I’d bet a higher percentage of the lawyers live in VA than DC.

  • TuesdayChild

    Ridiculous. As pointed out above, the big DC firms will not leave DC for prestige reasons. Just like NY law firms are in Manhattan, not Staten Island. The DC big firms have branch offices in Tysons for their tech clients. Arlington should focus on the expense cutting side of the budget.

  • TuesdayChild

    It is pretty amusing that Arlington or at least the AED thinks that down-state/republican Supreme Court of Virginia is going to change its historic rules on bar admissions to “potentially” earn 4 million in taxes a year for Arlington. Out of touch.

  • DC Attorney

    Very few DC law firms would consider moving to VA due to the address issue – they want a DC address. If they wanted to save money, they could simply move to the NoMA area of DC or anywhere else off the K Street corridor.

    No matter how attractive Rosslyn, Crystal City, or anywhere else in NoVA is for any reason (location or leasing costs), VA is not an option. The one minor exception is small intellectual property firms that solely work on IP issues before the Patent and Trademark Office. For the most part, they are already located in Alexandria having followed PTO from Crystal City when they moved there several years ago. AED should have spoken to a DC attorney or two before coming out with such a “study”.

  • Let’s Be Free

    I talked about this report to a neighbor who manages DC buildings that house branch offices of national law firms. She laughed. How much are we paying these County bureaucrats who have no earthly idea about how important the DC address is to the national firms and how inconsequential the rental per square foot is?

  • Burger

    I am a small solo practioner. I have an office that I split with a couple of attorneys listing a K St address. You know how many compliments I get about that address and how many people walk through my doors to become that K St address establishes a sense of success – many. An Arlington address will never convey that same sense of establishment or success so it won’t make any sense to change. I barred in Va and didn’t even consider Arlington as an option.

  • Dave Schutz

    The VA bar already lets you practice from VA even if admitted somewhere else if you stay away from VA law ‘practice limited to Federal law’, e.g. It seems unlikely that the VA bar is going to let all those lucrative VA divorces and wills go to interlopers who haven’t been through the initiation rite, pardon me, bar exam.

    I’m inclined to agree with the commenters who think the DC address issue is important.


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