State Bar of Arizona v. Lang (4/29/2014)

May 19, 2014

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds Non-Attorney Engages in Unauthorized Practice of Law by Holding Self Out as Attorney in Arizona Even Though Admitted to Practice in Tribal Court Within Arizona State.

Although not a member of the State Bar of Arizona, Randy Lang holds a law degree and is admitted to practice law in the San Carlos Apache Tribal Court, which is a court located within Arizona.  Between 2006 and 2008, Mr. Lang held an office in Arizona outside of the tribal reservation.  During this time he represented multiple non-Arizona residents in connection with contract negotiations, employment issues, and general representation matters.  Mr. Lang’s representation agreements with these individuals indicated that Mr. Lang was providing legal services as an attorney.  The State Bar of Arizona brought a lawsuit against Mr. Lang alleging numerous counts of unauthorized practice of law and seeking a declaratory injunction prohibiting him from practicing law in Arizona outside of tribal court.  The trial court granted summary judgment against Mr. Lang, entered a permanent injunction restraining him from practicing law in Arizona, and ordered restitution to two clients whom Mr. Lang unlawfully represented.

The appellate court rejected Mr. Lang’s first argument that the trial court did not have jurisdiction over him because his representation involved clients outside of Arizona.  The court stated that “[w]hen a resident of Arizona performs legal services while holding himself out to be an Arizona attorney working from an Arizona office, he engages in the practice of law in Arizona.”  The court of appeals also held that Mr. Lang’s representation agreements improperly suggested to his clients that he was authorized to engage in the practice of law in Arizona, in violation of Arizona Rule of the Supreme Court 31(a)(2)(B).  The agreements indicated Mr. Lang’s role as an attorney, provided an Arizona office address, and informed the client that Mr. Lang could appear in state court proceedings with court permission.  The court also rejected Mr. Lang’s argument that his representation agreements were protected by the First Amendment because such protection did not apply to speech designed to facilitate unlawful conduct.  Finally, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s injunction prohibiting Mr. Lang from holding a law office outside of the tribal jurisdiction, and from referring to himself as “J.D.” or “attorney,” despite his law school education and tribal bar admission.  The court construed the injunction as necessary to prevent client confusion as to Mr. Lang’s license and reasonably allowing Mr. Lang to refer to his tribal court admission while expressly disclaiming Arizona admission.

Judge Swann authored the opinion, and Chief Judge Johnsen and Judge Norris concurred.