USA - Washington International Trade in Legal Services

United States of America - Washington International Trade in Legal Services


Is there legislation governing the legal sector

WASHINGTON COURT RULES PART I. Rules of General Application.  General Rules, and, Admission and Practice Rules.  (See,

Under what title do lawyers practise?

Lawyer; Attorney; Attorney at Law

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



An individual must satisfy character and fitness to practice requirements, and pass the bar exam.  An individual qualifies for the bar exam by:
(i) having a JD from an ABA approved law school;
(ii) having a JD from non-ABA approved law school and an LLM “for the practice of law” from an ABA approved law school; or
(iii) completing the APR 6 Law Clerk Program (apprenticeship)
There is no formal renewal, however, to maintain good standing, a lawyer must, among other things, pay an annual license fee and keep current on mandatory continuing legal education.

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 Washington. 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?


















Definition of the Practice of Law
(a) General Definition: The practice of law is the application of legal principles and judgment with regard to the circumstances or objectives of another entity or person(s) which require the knowledge and skill of a person trained in the law. This includes but is not limited to:
(1) Giving advice or counsel to others as to their legal rights or the legal rights or responsibilities of others for fees or other consideration.
(2) Selection, drafting, or completion of legal documents or agreements which affect the legal rights of an entity or person(s).
(3) Representation of another entity or person(s) in a court, or in a formal administrative adjudicative proceeding or other formal dispute resolution process or in an administrative adjudicative proceeding in which legal pleadings are filed or a record is established as the basis for judicial review.
(4) Negotiation of legal rights or responsibilities on behalf of another entity or person(s).
(b) Exceptions and Exclusions: Whether or not they constitute the practice of law, the following are permitted:
(1) Practicing law authorized by a limited license to practice pursuant to Admission to Practice Rules 8 (special admission for: a particular purpose or action; indigent representation; educational purposes; emeritus membership; house counsel), 9 (legal interns), 12 (limited practice for closing officers), or 14 (limited practice for foreign law consultants).
(2) Serving as a court house facilitator pursuant to court rule.
(3) Acting as a lay representative authorized by administrative agencies or tribunals.
(4) Serving in a neutral capacity as a mediator, arbitrator, conciliator, or facilitator.
(5) Participation in labour negotiations, arbitrations or conciliations arising under collective bargaining rights or agreements.
(6) Providing assistance to another to complete a form provided by a court for protection under RCW chapters 10.14 (harassment) or 26.50 (domestic violence prevention) when no fee is charged to do so.
(7) Acting as a legislative lobbyist.
(8) Sale of legal forms in any format.
(9) Activities which are pre-empted by Federal law.
(10) Such other activities that the Supreme Court has determined by published opinion do not constitute the unlicensed or unauthorized practice of law or that have been permitted under a regulatory system established by the Supreme Court.
(c) Non-lawyer Assistants: Nothing in this rule shall affect the ability of non-lawyer assistants to act under the supervision of a lawyer in compliance with Rule 5.3 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
(d) General Information: Nothing in this rule shall affect the ability of a person or entity to provide information of a general nature about the law and legal procedures to members of the public.
(e) Governmental agencies: Nothing in this rule shall affect the ability of a governmental agency to carry out responsibilities provided by law.
(f) Professional Standards: Nothing in this rule shall be taken to define or affect standards for civil liability or professional responsibility.

Do you need to hold local nationality to be eligible to practise 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, or as a partner, shareholders of a professional corporation, or member of a professional limited liability company or partnership, or an employee of any of those entities or as in-house counsel (Washington RPC 7.5, Additional Washington Comment 3). Fee sharing with non-lawyers is prohibited.

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

The Washington state Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC), modelled on the ABA model code (see,; Rules for the Enforcement of Lawyer Conduct (ELC) (see,; and the Admission and Practice Rules (APR) (see

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

Not from the Court (Washington licenses individuals only, not law firms) 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 Washington Supreme Court through the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA), see,



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 Washington would need to be fully admitted to the Washington 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?

Yes - A foreign lawyer can obtain a licence to become a foreign law consultant (see The scope of practice permitted to Foreign Law Consultants is: Practice of home country law and international law to the extent that it is incorporated in home-country law. The practice of 3rd-country law and US/State law is not permitted.

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

FLCs must be in good standing with their home bar, abide by the State code of conduct and comply with annual licensing requirements in APR 14.

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 meeting the requirements of registration, an experience requirement (5 of the 7 years preceding registration must have been spent practising law), providing certification of registration and good standing with home-country bar, and agreeing to be bound by the discipline rules for lawyers and the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Are foreign lawyers permitted to undertake arbitration and mediation?

Yes, see General Rule 24, Definition of the Practice of Law.

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



Can foreign lawyers requalify as local lawyers?


Foreign lawyers must satisfy character and fitness requirements and pass the bar exam.  Foreign lawyers from English Common Law jurisdictions qualify for the bar exam if they have active legal experience for at least three of the last five years prior to the application.  All foreign lawyers qualify for the bar exam if they earn an “LLM degree for the practice of law” from an ABA approved law school. 


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? Foreign name is permitted
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?

Yes; but the employing foreign lawyer or law firm may not engage in the practice of law in Washington unless the employing foreign lawyer is also licensed to practice in Washington 

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

Yes, see answer above

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

Yes, see answer above



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