Right-Wing Bloggers' “Law License” Attack On Elizabeth Warren Falls Flat

Right-wing bloggers have echoed an accusation that Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, allegedly practiced law without a license. But the charge was dismissed by the general counsel of the agency responsible for enforcing Massachusetts bar rules, who said that Warren's activities are not a violation of those rules.

The accusation against Warren originally appeared in the blog Legal Insurrection in a post titled “Elizabeth Warren's law license problem.” Author William A. Jacobson, an associate professor at Cornell Law School, writes that, “Warren has practiced law in Massachusetts without a license in violation of Massachusetts law for well over a decade.” He notes that Warren, a professor at Harvard Law School, listed her law school office as her address on a handful of legal briefs, and is not a member of the Massachusetts bar. The charge was quickly echoed by other right-wing bloggers ranging from Jim Geraghty at National Review Online, who termed the accusation a “bombshell,” to Breitbart.com's Michael Patrick Leahy, who wrote that “though Warren operated a law practice from her Cambridge office for more than a decade, she never obtained a license to practice law in Massachusetts.”

But according to a post on The Docket, the blog of the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, Jacobson's charge has been rejected by Michael Fredrickson, the general counsel of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers, which is “an independent administrative body to investigate and evaluate complaints against lawyers.” According to The Docket:

Rule 5.5 of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct states that an attorney cannot, without a license to practice in Massachusetts, “establish an office or other systematic and continuous presence in this jurisdiction for the practice of law.” It also states an attorney cannot, without a license, “hold out to the public or otherwise represent that the lawyer is admitted to practice law in this jurisdiction.”

Michael Fredrickson, general counsel for the BBO, says he does not believe a law professor would be considered to have “a continuous presence” or “an office practicing law.”

“If they actually practice here - as some part-time law professors at some of the smaller schools do - they might,” Fredrickson says. “But being a professor at one of the large schools, their office is a professor's office, and the fact that they tend to dabble in the practice of law doesn't run afoul of our rule. I don't think Elizabeth Warren would fall within that, such that she would have to register here.”