The IBA’s response to the war in Ukraine  

USA - Massachusetts International Trade in Legal Services

United States of America - Massachusetts International Trade in Legal Services


Is there legislation governing the legal sector


Under what title do lawyers practise?

Attorney at law

How does an individual lawyer obtain a "licence" to practise law? How often must this be renewed?

An individual must have a bachelor’s degree and a J.D. from a law school approved by the American Bar Association or authorized by Massachusetts statute to grant the degree of Juris Doctor, passed the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, satisfied character and fitness to practice requirements, and have passed the Massachusetts bar exam.  A Massachusetts license to practice law must be renewed on an annual basis

Does this entitle the holder to practise throughout the country? If the law license only permits one to practice on a sub-national level, please explain the jurisdictional limits

This only automatically entitles the holder to practise in Massachusetts. The right to practise on a temporary basis in another state or to appear pro hac vice in another state depends on the explicit permission of that state.

Are there certain activities that are "reserved" to those who are licensed to practise law in the jurisdiction?



Massachusetts Conveyancers Ass'n, Inc. v. Colonial Title & Escrow, Inc., 2001 WL 669280 (Mass.Super. 2001)
Whether a particular activity constitutes the practice of law is fact specific. Matter of Shoe Manufacturers Protective Association, 295 Mass. 369, 372 (1936). While a comprehensive definition would be impossible to frame what constitutes ""the practice of law"", in general, consists of:
""[D]irecting and managing the enforcement of legal claims and the establishment of the legal rights of others, where it is necessary to form and to act upon opinions as to what those rights are and as to the legal methods which must be adopted to enforce them, the practice of giving or furnishing legal advice as to such rights and methods and the practice, as an occupation, of drafting documents by which such rights are created, modified, surrendered or secured ...""

Do you need to hold local nationality to be eligible to practise law?

Local nationality is not required for Massachusetts licensure to practice law.

What legal forms can lawyers work in? (e.g. self employment, partnership, limited liability partnership, multi-disciplinary partnership, incorporation)

A lawyer may practise as a sole practitioner, in a general or limited liability partnership. Fee sharing with non-lawyers is prohibited.

What other ethical or regulatory requirements must a licensed lawyer comply with? 

The Massachusetts code of professional conduct which is modelled on the ABA model code (see:http://www.mass.gov/obcbbo/rpcnet.htm)

Do law firms need to receive a "license" (or permission/approval) to practice law?

Not from the Court but may be subject to other notification requirements depending on the form taken (e.g. limited liability company) and the local State code.

Which authority issues licences? Are there different authorities for individuals and firms? 

Licences are issued by the State courts: http://www.mass.gov/obcbbo/



Are there any explicit rules or restrictions other than visas on fly in fly out practice of law? Ie. Do you need to obtain a licence for temporary practice?

Foreign lawyers are not permitted to provide fly-in fly-out services, this is only permitted to lawyers from other US states (see Professional Conduct rule 5.5 on Unauthorized Practice of Law)

Can a foreign lawyer obtain a visa to visit clients or to market but not to practice?




Under the WTO commitments of the USA, an individual wishing to practise law on a fly in fly out basis in Massachusetts would need to be fully admitted to the Massachusetts Bar or to the Bar of another US State. 'Service salespersons' are permitted to enter the USA for periods of up to 90 days. "Service salespersons" are "persons not based in the territory of the United States and receiving no remuneration from a source located within the United States, who are engaged in activities related to representing a services supplier for the purpose of negotiating for the sale of the services of that supplier where: a) such sales are not directly made to the general public and b) the salesperson is not engaged in supplying the service" Entry for persons named in this section is limited to a ninety-day period.

Can a foreign lawyer obtain a licence to establish and practise as a foreign legal consultant and what is the scope of this limited licence?

A foreign lawyer can obtain a limited licence entitling them to offer advisory services in foreign and international law (i.e. become a foreign legal consultant).Ethical Requirements and Rules Concerning the Practice of Law of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Rule 3:05.  This is available online at http://socialaw.gvpi.net/sll/lpext.dll/sll/rules?f=tmplates&fn=main-h.htm.   A limited licence allows a foreign lawyer to give advice on the law of his or her home jurisdiction subject to certain limitations.  In order to offer advisory services in foreign and international law, a foreign legal consultant is not required to but may enter a commercial association with local lawyers.

Are there any conditions that must be fulfilled once a foreign lawyer has been granted a limited licence (e.g. residency requirement)

In-state or US residency is required for licensure as a US lawyer in: Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota (or maintain an office in Minnesota), Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Wyoming.

Are there any conditions that must be fulfilled for a foreign lawyer to qualify for a limited licence? (e.g. prior practice)

Licensure is subject to the registration requirements: the applicant must be a member in good standing with a recognised legal profession in his or her home country with five years of experience, good moral character, and an intention to open an office in Massachusetts for purposes of rendering advice on law of his or her home country

Are foreign lawyers permitted to undertake arbitration and mediation?


Are foreign lawyers allowed to appear in court under any circumstances?


Chapter 221 of the General Laws of Massachusetts, § 46A. Practice of law; persons authorized.http://www.state.ma.us/legis/laws/mgl/221%2D46a.htm

Can foreign lawyers requalify as local lawyers?


A graduate from a foreign law school (other than those Canadian law schools that are prequalified) may be permitted to sit for the bar exam after taking further legal studies designated by the Board at an ABA-approved law school or a Massachusetts-accredited law school. Foreign law school graduates must obtain a determination of their educational equivalency from the Board prior to making application. A foreign lawyer cannot obtain a full licence to practise law in this jurisdiction.  The relevant impediment is that the lawyer requires full admission to the Bar like any other attorney. Foreign lawyers may be excused from sitting the examination  providing they have met the following requirements: a) obtained prior Board approval of their educational sufficiency and work history, b) provided verification that they have been admitted and are in good standing in another state, district, or territory of the United States and have engaged in the practice of law for 5 out of the past 7 years before making application, c) passed the MPRE, and d) satisfied the Board as to their moral character and fitness.


Can a foreign law firm obtain a licence to open an office?

There are no separate requirements on law firms. An FLC is permitted to open an office.

Even if a foreign law firm does not require a legal licence must they register in some form in order to set up an office? (e.g. with a ministry of company affairs etc)

Not applicable

Are there different types of foreign law firm 'licence'  (e.g. Joint Law Venture, stand alone foreign licence etc)

Not applicable

Is there a quota on the number of licences available?

Not applicable

Are there geographical restrictions on foreign firm licences or on the number of branches a foreign firm can have?


Are there "scope of practice" rules that apply directly to foreign law firms (as opposed to lawyers themselves)? (e.g. home, host, international law), if so, what are they? No
Are there restrictions on the corporate form a foreign law firm can take? Not applicable
Are there rules about the name a foreign law firm can take? Not applicable
What entity grants a 'license' to a foreign law firm? If that entity is on the Internet, please provide the URL Not applicable


Are there restrictions on the ownership share of foreign lawyers in a law firm?

Not applicable

May a domestic lawyer be employed by a foreign lawyer or law firm?

Not applicable

Can a domestic lawyer enter into partnership with a foreign lawyer?


Can a domestic lawyer or domestic law firm employ a foreign lawyer?




Other useful sources or comments or links


Verified by

Supreme Judicial Court     (January 2014)