(photo credit: Courtesy)
Leading into the first anniversary this month of becoming the first foreign licensed attorney in the country to be registered to advise Israeli clients on legal matters abroad, Baruch Bebchick said that the change “rights a longstanding wrong.”
He said that until the recent change to the Israel Bar Association Law, the Bar Association had “just not taken into account changes in modern technology,” such as the power of the Internet to allow lawyers living in Israel to be used as out \sourcers for most legal work, making it mutually beneficial to all parties to deregulate the market for foreign lawyers.
But haven’t there been oleh lawyers practicing law in Israel for years? Yes, but there were only two major categories.
One group was those who passed variations of Israel’s legal exams in Hebrew and who became Israeli lawyers, many undertaking local work in Hebrew as well as foreign work.
Another category was those who lived in Israel, but kept their law practices entirely focused on clientele from the US, the UK or wherever they made aliya from.
But until Bebchick became a foreign licensed lawyer one year ago, if one did not become an Israeli lawyer, passing at least some exams in Hebrew, one could not legally (though some did it anyway) serve Israeli clients in any way – even regarding foreign law.
That meant that many Israelis wanting to invest in the US or another foreign country either employed Israeli law firms, who had at least one lawyer licensed in the foreign country, but with less hands-on familiarity with the country than a native, or had to hire foreign lawyers and pay their much higher rates.
As of August 2012, all of that changed and a third category came into existence: oleh lawyers living in Israel and registered as foreign lawyers who could advise Israeli clients on the foreign law they specialize in. The registration requirements include passing an ethics exam in English and paying insurance.
Other than appearing in court, Bebchick suggested that American lawyers who made aliya, and were registered as foreign lawyers, could now perform almost all foreign legal work for their Israeli clients, while still maintaining their foreign law practices.
Bebchick said that for some time he had just moved his New York practice to Israel and been unable to serve Israeli clients.
The change was a “coup for Israeli consumers since it increase competition,” he said.
One reason the shift had taken so long although globalization trends had existed for some time was that the Bar Association “was monopolistic and against change for so long, sort of an old boys thing.”
Before the change, Bebchick said that the best Israelis who wanted to do business in New York could do was get an Israeli who had gotten credentialed in the US state, but still was “not practicing New York law day to day or fully oriented to it,” and certainly was “not familiar with specific New York laws and industry-specific issues in New York.”
But since most Israelis did not “know how to get a New York lawyer and do not want to pay New York fees, they get used to them,” he said.
After a long fight came the “game-changer” noted Bebchick, in that he and other newly minted registered foreign lawyers “could charge the same or even less than an Israeli law firm,” while also being a “real New York lawyer.”
Despite the optimism, one year into the experiment, the Bar Association said that so far “the impact, to the extent there has been any, has been negligible.” A statement from the Bar Association said that only two law offices have registered as foreign law firms practicing foreign law in Israel, while only six foreign lawyers have registered.
The change has had somewhat limited immediate impact on the market, Bebchick acknowledged, saying that most of his clients were still not Israeli.
But he added that there was significant long-term potential once the change became more well-known, and that he was excited not to have to turn away Israeli business anymore.