Don’t get left holding the bag: The fundamental requirements for pro hac vice status in California.

The California Rules of Court are abundantly clear: “[a] person who is not a member of the State Bar of California but who is a member in good standing of and eligible to practice before the bar of any United States court…may in the discretion of such court be permitted…to appear as counsel pro hac vice, provided that an active member of the State Bar of California is associated as attorney of record.”[1] If you aren’t careful, and are an out of state attorney attempting to appear pro hac vice in California, you can spend hundreds of hours prosecuting a case and be left holding the proverbial bag. That is the holding handed down from California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division 3, in Golba v. Dick’s Sporting Goods, Inc..[2]  In Golba, Joseph Siprut, a Chicago based attorney, applied for admission pro hac vice through local counsel, California attorney Sean Reis.  Reis neglected to send proper payment therefore the application was flagged and set aside by the clerk of court. Almost a year and a half later, after substantial investment of time and effort, Siprut discovered that his application had been denied.  The case ultimately settled but the court denied any recovery for Siprut’s out-of-state attorneys’ fees.

The reasoning for denying Siprut’s application was sound, and not based on the mere technicality of local counsel forgetting to submit a fee with the paperwork.  Siprut had appeared in California courts pro hac vice more than twelve times the previous year. The court found that was too much, and few would likely disagree. The rules are crystal clear: in order prosecute a case in California courts an out of state attorney must either be a member of the California State Bar, or be admitted pro hac vice which requires the assistance of local counsel.  Fail to follow these rules and the services rendered in the case are not compensable.[3]  As Anita Shah[4] succinctly points out “Golba illustrates the obvious importance of having pro hac vice admission secured prior to commencing substantial work on a case.” It is hard to find a flaw in that logic.

Don’t be left holding the bag.  Find competent local counsel, submit the appropriate paperwork, wait for approval before you begin substantial work on the case, and don’t abuse the privilege of practicing as a pro hac attorney.  Those are the rules unless you want to take the California bar.


—  By Derek A. Jordan, Esq., Barnes Law

Derek A. Jordan is an associate attorney with Barnes Law, licensed to practice law in Tennessee.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

[1] Rule 9.40, 2016 California Rules of Court

[2] 238 Cal. App. 4th 1251.

[3] Birbrower, Montalbano, Condon & Frank v. Superior Court (1998) 17 Cal.4th 119, 136 [70 Cal.Rptr.2d 304, 313, 949 P.2d 1, 10], as modified (Feb. 25, 1998)