Second Circuit Finds New York’s In-state Office Requirement Constitutional

On April 22, 2016, the Second Circuit decided SCHOENEFELD v. SCHNEIDERMAN, et. al.  In a 2-1 decision, the Second Circuit reversed the district court and remanded the case with instructions to the court to award judgment to the defendants.  The Second Circuit majority upheld the constitutionality of New York’s rule that requires an instate office.  Relying on

McBurney v. Young, 133 S. Ct. 1709 (2013), the Court held, inter alia, that “in the absence of any proof that that statute’s instate office requirement was enacted for a protectionist purpose”, plaintiff could not prevail.

The suit was filed in 2008 by Ekaterina Schoenefeld, who was a New Jersey resident. She had cited the Privileges & Immunity Clause and argued that the policy, which blocked her from practicing in New York despite passing the bar there and meeting all other requirements, served no substantial state interest.  She had noted that New York residents need not have a physical office in New  York and may practice from their homes.   This argument was not successful.  The opinions are quite lengthy – 31 pages for the majority and 25 pages for the dissent. The ABA Journal has a story about the case here about and there is Wall Street Journal article here.

Although the Court held that it was constitutional for New York to have an in-state office requirement, the decision does not require such a rule.  At some point, New York might want to revisit this issue.   In addition to its domestic implications, this ruling has the potential to reduce the number of foreign-admitted lawyers who annually sit for New York’s bar exam. See Diane Bosse, Testing Foreign-Trained Applicants in a New York State of Mind.   New York’s in-state office rule could affect the attractiveness of the New York license as a global credential.

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