Editor's Note: The Lawyers Column is resuming. It is being written by Ruth Marcus, with contributions from reporters in the District, Maryland and Virginia, and it will appear every other Monday. Marcus, who covers legal affairs for The Post, is a lawyer and has been on the Metro staff since 1984.By Ruth Marcus Washington Post Staff Writer
The D.C. Court of Appeals last week cleared the way for foreign lawyers to be licensed to practice -- sort of -- in the District.
The court adopted an amendment to its rules that will allow experienced foreign lawyers to be licensed as "special legal consultants" who may advise clients on foreign and international law.
The foreign lawyers will not be permitted to appear in court proceedings, to prepare documents such as wills, mortgages or divorce agreements, or to give advice on U.S. law "except in reliance on the advice of a qualified U.S. lawyer."
The rule, effective immediately, makes the District -- where international trade and investment have been increasingly important sources of legal work -- the third U.S. jurisdiction to permit practice by foreign lawyers. About 75 foreign lawyers have been licensed in New York since it adopted a similar measure in 1974, and Michigan instituted licensing for foreign lawyers last year.
J. Eugene Marans, who chaired the D.C. Bar's Foreign Legal Consultants Committee, which asked the court to adopt the rule, said it had a dual purpose:
"First, it will provide easy access by District lawyers and others in the District to qualified advice on foreign and international law," helping spur the growth of the District as an international commercial and financial center, said Marans, a partner in the D.C. office of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton.
In addition, he said, "I think it will help in facilitating practice by District lawyers in foreign countries." The adoption of the rule removes a potential stumbling block in negotiations with Japan over permitting U.S. lawyers to enter that potentially lucrative legal market, which is now closed to American lawyers. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and a number of major law firms have been negotiating over rules that would enable U.S. lawyers to hang out shingles there.
Marans said, "We're not expecting a great wave of lawyers. But the major foreign firms in the major capitals have expressed an interest, and in due course we'll see some of them here."
Maryland Attorney General Stephen Sachs got some chuckles at the American Bar Association midyear meeting in Baltimore last month at the expense of his former law partner, M. Peter Moser, who introduced Sachs as a luncheon speaker. Sachs said Moser's questioning of a medical examiner in one case went something like this:
Moser: "What time did you start conducting the autopsy of Mr. Edgington?"
Witness: "It was in the evening, approximately 8:30."
Moser: "And Mr. Edgington was dead at the time, is that correct?"
Did that really happen? "You'd better believe it didn't," said Moser, a partner at Frank, Bernstein, Conaway & Goldman. "He was just telling stories." Even so, Moser said, "I really enjoyed the talk tremendously."
Life is tough at Steptoe & Johnson. The District's fourth largest firm -- which late last year advised 13 associates that it was time for them to look for other jobs -- is now discussing eliminating the subsidies for lunches in the attorneys' dining room, where the catered food comes from Sutton Place Gourmet. The firm is footing a catering bill that firm sources said came to $70,000 yearly for the lawyers to lunch for $4 per meal. Last week's menu featured such items as pork chops with tarragon mustard, and a Chinese day with stir-fried beef and fortune cookies.
Steptoe partner James L. McHugh Jr. said the firm is discussing "reducing the level of the fare. It's not all that extravagant, but we lose money on it . . . . We decided it didn't make sense to subsidize people on their food. It's not something we think our people really require."
Not everything goes. In California, where Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird is battling to win confirmation for a second 12-year term, leaders of Los Angeles' largest organization of criminal defense lawyers last month canceled the group's annual satirical show, which was to feature a lampoon of Bird.
The planned show, which was deemed inappropriate, included a number that roasted Bird for never having voted to uphold a death sentence. To the tune of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes," an actress playing Bird was to sing: "If you like to slash or strangle, or night stalkin' is your angle, you'll fill death rows. But nobody goes."
Sounds fair. The policy making arm of the federal judiciary, the Judicial Conference of the United States, has come up with a number of proposals for adjusting to the cuts in its $1 billion budget mandated by Gramm-Rudman-Hollings. It wants to "explore the possibility" of billing other government agencies for space in federal courthouses -- for example, the use of grand jury rooms by the Department of Justice -- at a potential savings of $3.6 million. At the same time, it wants to ask the FBI -- an arm of the Justice Department -- to stop charging for background investigations for bankruptcy judges and magistrates, a projected savings of $100,000 for the rest of this fiscal year.