Red tape blunder blocks foreign lawyers practising in California

Foreign lawyers practising in California have been caught up in a red tape bungle, which effectively prohibits them from working in the state.

The problem began over an issue surrounding arrears on child-support payments. The State Bar implemented a 1992 bill prohibiting the renewal of any professional licence, including a bar licence, for anyone without a social security number. As foreign lawyers do not have social security numbers, this also created problems for them.

The measures attracted condemnation from the England and Wales Law Society, as well as from the consul general of the British consulate in San Francisco.

Consul general Martin Uden suggested that British lawyers could direct clients to other parts of the US where there were no restrictions on them practising, such as New York. While this does not create a problem for Clifford Chance, Osborne Clarke – which has just one US office in Silicon Valley – might suffer.

A state proposal to clear up the mess, allowing foreigners to use other identification, is attached to an existing bill relating to legal aid access for evicted tenants, which was overwhelmingly opposed in the Senate. The issues cannot be separated on the bill.

At the time The Lawyer went to press, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger faced a deadline to act or the bill would be passed into law on 9 October without his signature.

Uden said the UK had no regulatory barriers to California attorneys practising, and was hopeful of a reciprocal arrangement.