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High court rules to allow Attorney’s Oath to be taken virtually

Beginning July 1, applicants seeking admission to practice law in the state can register to take the Attorney’s Oath virtually instead of in-person.

The Supreme Court ruled to amend SCR 40.02, adding a subsection that allows individuals unable to appear in court to notify the Board of Bar Examiners and request to take the oath remotely via audio-visual communications before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Requests can be made by emailing the Clerk of the Supreme Court and by filing the Certificate of Mailing Address Form with the clerk. Justices administering the oath must be able to see and hear the applicant in order to properly identify them.

The amendment comes after the BBE filed a petition in November, and the State Bar submitted a response in January, indicating they remained neutral on the matter. The State Bar’s only comment was to create a uniform deadline for enrollment completion, amending the previous rule from 10 days to 14. The high court determined that a public hearing was not necessary and voted to grant the BBE’s petition with the deadline extension requested by the State Bar.

“This was an option appealing to many,” said Jacquelynn Rothstein, executive director and general counsel for the BBE.

The issue first appeared in May 2021 when the court issued its own Administrative Interim Order allowing qualified individuals to appear remotely to take the oath. The Board requested an extension in October that kept the order in place until June 30, 2022.

Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown Partner Chris Strohbehn reflected on his admission appearance in 2002.

“It’s a different experience to go in person — it’s a more momentous event if you appear in person and you lose a lot of that by doing it virtually. You lose the ambiance,” he said.

However, Strohbehn believes it’s a step in the right direction.

“It’s a way to change with the times to benefit the overall practice. You should be sworn in right away,” Strohbehn said. “The reality is that if you’re getting admitted to the Bar, you have to pass the character and fitness exams. If you’ve been cleared by the BBE, you should be allowed and trusted to take oath virtually.”

The Office of Lawyer Regulation is unbiased toward the amendment, Director Timothy Samuelson said. He said that the OLR had not received any complaints since the interim rule began in 2021. While Rothstein was not aware of the court hearing any oppositional testimony or arguments, not all of the legal community is in favor of the addition.

William Gleisner, acting secretary for the Wisconsin Judicial Council and a Brookfield attorney, commended the industry’s ability to adopt new technology, but vocalized reservations about using it to replace certain proceedings.

“I am thrilled with the developments in remote technology. However, there are things which cannot be done by Zoom and things which should not be done by Zoom. I do not believe jury trials can be done remotely, despite heroic efforts to do so,” Gleisner said in an email. “I do not believe that being sworn in to practice should be done remotely. To me, such an important solemnity ought to be done in court to reinforce the sacred duty a lawyer assumes when entering this noble profession.”

About Ali Teske

Ali Teske is the legal reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal. She can be reached at (414) 225-1825 or [email protected]

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