Bar Overseer: No Official Position Yet on Warren Law License Controversy

Michael Fredrickson, General Counsel at the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers, has contested reports which suggested his "personal reading" of Elizabeth Warren's law practice controversy reflect the Board's official position. 

William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection, who interviewed Fredrickson on Tuesday, stated that "Fredrickson’s opinion in no way could be deemed the position of the Board of Bar Overseers or a determination as to whether Warren herself complied with Massachusetts law." 

On Monday, a Massachusetts Law Weekly article, "Warren law license matter called non-issue," cited comments by Fredrickson extensively, presenting them in a manner to suggest they were officially exculpatory:

Rule 5.5 of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct states that an attorney cannot, without a license to practice in Massachusetts, “establish an office or other systematic and continuous presence in this jurisdiction for the practice of law.” It also states an attorney cannot, without a license, “hold out to the public or otherwise represent that the lawyer is admitted to practice law in this jurisdiction.”

Michael Fredrickson, general counsel for the BBO, says he does not believe a law professor would be considered to have “a continuous presence” or “an office practicing law.”

“If they actually practice here – as some part-time law professors at some of the smaller schools do – they might,” Fredrickson says. “But being a professor at one of the large schools, their office is a professor’s office, and the fact that they tend to dabble in the practice of law doesn’t run afoul of our rule. I don’t think Elizabeth Warren would fall within that, such that she would have to register here.”

But Jacobson notes that "Fredrickson said it was his 'personal reading' of the law and he was not speaking on behalf of the Board of Bar Overseers.' " Fredrickson qualified his "personal reading" further:

Fredrickson stated that he did not purport to determine whether Warren violated the applicable law. He said he was just “speaking hypothetically” and not specifically as to Warren because “I know so little about Elizabeth Warren and her practice.” . . .

Fredrickson said he did not mean to suggest that there was any different standard for law professors, or that maintaining an “office for the practice of law” under the Rule 5.5(b)(1) required that it be an office exclusively or primarily for the practice of law. 

Jacobson's report on Monday that Elizabeth Warren may have practiced law and operated a law office in Massachusetts without a license set off a media firestorm. The hotly-contested Massachusetts Senate race between incumbent Republican Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Warren remains a toss-up in the polls seven weeks before the election.

On Tuesday, Megyn Kelly discussed the Warren law practice controversy with two legal experts on Fox News.

As lawyers and commentators continue to disagree about the details of the Warren law practice controversy, one undisputed fact has emerged. Scott Brown's criticism of Professor Warren's legal work for Travelers Insurance at last Thursday's debate is one issue that clearly has legs.


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