The opinion of the court was delivered by: LaVECCHIA, J.
Argued September 12, 2000
On an Order to Show Cause why certification of the applicant for admission to the bar should not be withheld.
This Court issued an Order to Show Cause why Steven B. Jackman's admission to the bar should not be withheld for failure to meet the requirements of good character and fitness for admission. In its Report and Recommendation, a Regulation ("RG") 303 Panel of the Committee on Character found that Jackman had been engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in New Jersey from August 1991 until April 1998 when he was employed as a Senior Associate at the law firm of Sills Cummis Radin Tischman Epstein & Gross, P.A., without a license to practice law in New Jersey. The RG 303 Panel recommended that Jackman's certification for admission be denied and the RG 304 Review Panel agreed. The Court's jurisdiction is invoked pursuant to our supervisory authority over the Committee on Character, R. 1:25, which derives in turn from our constitutional power to govern the practice of law. N.J. Const. art. VI, § 2, ¶ 3.
We now hold that Jackman did engage in the unauthorized practice of law from 1991 to 1998, that the nature of his practice did not obviate the need to be licensed in New Jersey, and that he was responsible for that conduct notwithstanding his reliance on the advice of the managing partner of the New Jersey law firm in which he was employed. We agree with the RG 304 Review Panel that Jackman's unauthorized practice of law reflects negatively on the candidate's fitness for admission. However, Jackman's certification for admission already has been delayed since July 1999. We hold, therefore, that delaying Mr. Jackman's certification for admission until January 2, 2001 shall serve sufficiently to underscore to the candidate the need to appreciate and abide by the laws, rules, and procedures governing attorneys admitted to the bar of this State.
The facts are essentially undisputed. Jackman was licensed as an attorney in Massachusetts in January 1985, following his graduation from Harvard Law School. He was employed at the Boston law firm of Goodwin, Proctor & Hoar until 1991 when he became employed as an associate at the New Jersey law firm of Sills Cummis Radin Tischman Epstein & Gross (Sills Cummis). Jackman applied to sit for the New Jersey bar examination in February 1992. As the exam date approached, a closing was scheduled for an unusually large transaction in which the firm was involved. Jackman testified that he was advised by the firm's managing partner that his time was needed for that transaction, and he was "politely requested" not to take the February bar exam. Jackman stated that he was advised further by the managing partner that "there was no particular necessity that [he] take the bar exam in New Jersey in order to . . . practice corporate law in New Jersey -- but that sooner or later [he] ought to take it because it's kind of a good idea." Accordingly, Jackman withdrew from sitting for the February 1992 bar exam. He explained that although he still planned to take the New Jersey bar exam, he determined to delay sitting for it until he learned whether Sills Cummis was going to make him a partner. He was due for consideration as a partner in 1995. He was considered for partner in 1995 and then again each of the next three years.
In the meantime, in 1993 Mr. Jackman placed his Massachusetts license to practice law on inactive status. He testified that he was informed by a representative of the Bar Overseers from Massachusetts that the "inactive status" category covered persons not practicing in Massachusetts but who were practicing in other states. While Jackman said that he did make it clear that Massachusetts was the only state in which he was licensed, he conceded that in that exchange the Massachusetts Bar Overseer representative never informed him that his Massachusetts license, inactive or active in status, was alone sufficient for practice in another state. He never made any inquiry to the New Jersey Board of Bar Examiners or other official personnel regarding his need for a New Jersey license. Throughout the period that his Massachusetts license was inactive, he remained a member in good standing, subject to discipline and licensing standards of the State of Massachusetts.
Jackman worked for Sills Cummis from 1991 to 1998. He never took the bar exam in New Jersey. During that time he did not appear in court nor did he sign any pleadings in any litigated matter. But, as an associate handling mergers and acquisitions, and general corporate law matters, he did prepare and sign legal documents, counsel clients, negotiate with other attorneys on behalf of his clients, and bill for his time as a Senior Associate. He testified that during this period his name appeared on the firm's letterhead as an associate of the firm, with an asterisk to indicate "Admitted in jurisdiction other than New Jersey" or words to that effect. He pointed to the fact that others on the firm's letterhead were noted as "Admitted in New York." However, we are informed that Sills Cummis has an office location in New York. There was no clear indication that Jackman was admitted only in another jurisdiction. However, if clients specifically inquired, they were told that he was not a member of the New Jersey bar.
Although he claims that he consulted New Jersey licensed attorneys at the firm on New Jersey law issues "virtually always," there is no contention here that Jackman functioned in a law-clerk-like status. As the record before the RG 303 and 304 Panels plainly reveals, Jackman functioned as a full associate involved in transactional matters. He consulted with other lawyers on New Jersey law matters, but otherwise operated as if he were a fully authorized associate at the firm.
Eventually, Jackman left the Sills Cummis firm to work for a New York law firm. That firm promptly advised him that he must sit for the New York bar exam. Accordingly, in July 1999 he sat for both the New York and New Jersey bar, and as a result this history came under the scrutiny of the Committee on Character, which has recommended against Jackman's certification for admission.
Lawyering is a profession of "great traditions and high standards." Speech by Chief Justice Robert N. Wilentz, Commencement Address - Rutgers University School of Law, Newark (June 2, 1991), in 49 Rutgers L. Rev. 1061, 1062 (1997). Consistently this Court has referred to bar admission as a "privilege burdened with conditions." In re Application of Matthews, 94 N.J. 59, 75 (1983) (citing In re Pennica, 36 N.J. 401, 433 (1962)). The core conditions, articulated more than 150 years ago in On Application for Attorney's License, 21 N.J.L. 345 (Sup. Ct. 1848), resonate as soundly in the Twenty-First Century as they did when uttered: "good moral character, a capacity for fidelity to the interests of clients, and for fairness and candor in dealings with the courts." In re Pennica, supra, 36 N.J. at 434. Today those concepts are joined together in the overall "fitness to practice" standard set forth in R. 1:25. As Justice Handler explained in In re Application of Matthews, the fitness requirement is rooted in the State's fundamental interests in regulation of the legal profession:
first, the protection of prospective clients, and second, the assurance of the proper, orderly and efficient administration of justice. These governmental interests were described by the Florida Supreme Court:
The layman must have confidence that he has employed an attorney who will protect his interests. Further, society must be guaranteed that the applicant will not thwart the administration of justice. These exigencies arise because the technical nature of law provides the unscrupulous attorney with a frequent vehicle to defraud a client. Further, the lawyer can obstruct the judicial process in numerous ways, e.g., by recommending perjury, misrepresenting case holdings, or attempting to bribe judges or jurors. In re Eimers, 358 So.2d 7, 9 (Fla. 1978) (citation omitted).
. . . [A] bar applicant must possess a certain set of traits -- honesty and truthfulness, trustworthiness and reliability, and a professional commitment to the judicial process and the administration of justice. These personal characteristics are required to ensure that lawyers will serve both their clients and the administration of ...