If you are a church in Arkansas, Josh Bryant is licensed in your state. If you are a church in Texas or Oklahoma, he's developed a network of attorneys to help if we need. Otherwise, you're right. we're not licensed in your state. The good news is, we don't have to be in order to be your "in-house counsel." What? How's that?
- An attorney does not have to be licensed in your state to be your In-House General Counsel.
Rule 5.5 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct governs what is known as the "Multi-jurisdictional Practice of Law." Organizations and businesses bring in attorneys all the time to work full time for them as "General Counsel." Many Fortune 500 companies have hundreds of lawyers working for them out of their corporate headquarters that aren't licensed in the state of the business because Rule 5.5 allows it.
The thing is, most churches can't afford their own in-house General Counsel at $150,000 per year. But most churches can afford a part-time Church General Counsel, especially at under $150 per month as opposed to the $150 or $200 per hour most attorneys would charge as outside counsel.
There are still limitations. Josh Bryant can't go to court in your state. He can't give opinion on matters that are purely a state law issue. That's ok though. Most of the legal risks churches face are under federal law, like employment issues, taxation, First Amendment, and so forth. Additionally, many of the things he'll advise you on are not inherently matters of legal opinion (although they are formed by legal education and experience). For example, procedural things like the "two adult rule" to protect kids and vulnerable adults in churches isn't necessarily legal advice - it's procedural advice designed to mitigate and manage the risk of going to court because a child or vulnerable adult is abused at your church.
If something came up where you needed a local attorney, your Church General Counsel would manage that relationship for you. It always helps for organizations like churches to have an attorney managing attorneys. Josh Bryant's job would be to lay out expectations to local counsel, provide instructions and get feedback using the legalese we're all trained in, and then communicate that back to you as the decision maker in your church.
This may be a bit confusing, so there will be subsequent podcasts, blogs, and blogs on the subject. Do us a favor - leave any questions you have in the comments below. We'll answer them directly and may also answer them as we produce more content in the future.
Church General Counsel Managing Attorney Josh Bryant, J.D., M.Div., authors most of the posts in this section. From time to time, he will post articles from others in the field of church growth, administration, and operations.