Why Your Lawyer May Want to Consider an Out-of-State Legal Aid Waiver
Posted February 15, 2018 10:15:06 In a time of unprecedented political upheaval, many lawyers are facing a difficult decision: to work in an out-of of-state jurisdiction, or to choose to represent their clients in the U.S. in person.
While legal aid and legal representation are not mutually exclusive, many are wary of the financial burden of travel and time away from their family and loved ones.
A new petition filed on behalf of lawyers in Wyoming, New Mexico, and Alabama seeks to make the case that they should not be forced to choose between paying their bills or staying in their hometown.
“The legal profession has faced the challenge of maintaining professional integrity while dealing with the effects of the opioid crisis,” reads the petition, which was launched by lawyers for the Wyoming Bar Association, the New Mexico Bar Association and the Alabama Bar Association.
“It is clear to me that the need for professional integrity and ethical conduct is greater in an effort to provide services to Wyoming and its people.”
The petition was prompted by the Supreme Court’s decision in May to rule in favor of Wyoming’s residents, who argued that the state should not have to fund lawyers who may be required to move to a remote jurisdiction to represent them in court.
The justices were deciding whether the state can compel Wyoming lawyers to move.
The Supreme Court ruling left the door open for states to force lawyers to stay in their home states.
“Wyoming should not require Wyoming lawyers, who work in Wyoming and do not commute to Washington, DC, to remain in Wyoming for a year or more to maintain their professional integrity,” reads one of the signatures on the petition.
“Our Wyoming lawyers are the best in the world and deserve to be able to travel and work anywhere in the country.”
The lawyers are not the only ones advocating for Wyoming’s interests.
In December, an initiative to make lawyers in the state more comfortable with working in out- of- state jurisdictions was defeated in the Wyoming Legislature.
As the opioid epidemic has intensified, the number of Wyoming lawyers moving has dropped by nearly half, from over 50,000 in 2015 to a mere 23,000 this year.
While Wyoming has experienced a significant decline in the number and severity of opioid-related deaths, the state has seen a steady rise in heroin and other illicit drug overdoses.
Last year, Wyoming recorded a spike in fentanyl-related overdoses, according to a report from the Office of the Attorney General, a division of the Department of Justice that deals with public health and law enforcement issues.
The opioid epidemic also has impacted the mental health and well-being of Wyoming law students.
According to the Wyoming Board of Law Examiners, fewer than 5% of Wyoming students receive treatment for opioid- related conditions.
“While there are other issues in the community that need to be addressed, including the opioid overdose crisis, Wyoming is not one of them,” said Wyoming Board Chair, State Senator, and Republican State Representative Dan Clements.
“We must work together to ensure that Wyoming can provide a quality, safe, and humane education environment that honors the values of Wyoming and our people.”
A bill that would allow Wyoming lawyers and others to seek reimbursement for legal fees and expenses incurred by attorneys who are moved to out-state jurisdictions has failed in the Legislature.
The bill, House Bill 1283, was reintroduced in the House by State Representative John Schulz and passed in the Senate in June by a margin of 68-24.
The proposed law would allow lawyers in rural or rural-ish counties to request reimbursement for travel and living expenses that are not reimbursed for in-state expenses.
It would also allow attorneys to seek payment for out-door trips that would be required for attorneys in Washington, D.C. The legislation has received bipartisan support in the legislature.
The Wyoming Bar and the New Mexican Bar Association both have been involved in drafting and sponsoring the legislation, according a letter sent by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Velasquez.
“This bill has the potential to make our legal system more efficient and to provide more opportunity for our attorneys to represent Wyoming’s communities,” Velasuez wrote.
“These measures are not intended to penalize Wyoming’s law students and would not be discriminatory.”
New Mexico’s attorney general, Mary Nichols, said that Wyoming’s bill is “the right thing to do.”
“Our attorneys will be able take care of their own health and their own families, but they need to pay their bills,” she said.
“My office is supportive of Wyoming families and wants to help them with the cost of living.
Wyoming families are hurting, and it’s important for them to be safe and secure.”
The proposed bill has also drawn criticism from the American Bar Association’s Legal Counsel Advisory Council.
“To make a decision on whether or not to stay or relocate to a different jurisdiction is an important decision,” the council wrote in a statement.
“There are a variety of other issues