PORTLAND (AP) – A new set of rules for how the three northern New England states license lawyers could make it easier for law firms to expand their practices in each other’s states.

Maine’s supreme court approved the rules earlier this month, and they take effect Jan. 1.

Courts in the three states will allow some out-of-state lawyers to be admitted to the bar without taking the bar exam, under a reciprocal admission agreement.

A lawyer from any of the three states can apply for the right to practice in one of the other states by taking 15 hours of continuing education in the laws of that state.

Current bar rules require a lawyer from Maine, New Hampshire or Vermont who wants to represent a client in one of the other two states to take the bar exam there.

Some Maine attorneys say the new rules could make it easier for Maine law firms to keep corporate clients who expand their businesses into other states.

The rules also are likely to make it easier for Maine’s firms to compete for regional business against more expensive New York and Boston law firms.

Maine’s largest law firms are venturing more and more across state borders for new business.

Pierce Atwood of Portland recently opened an office in Portsmouth, N.H., and Verrill & Dana has announced plans to open a four-lawyer office in Boston. Portland firm Bernstein Shur Sawyer & Nelson has an office in Manchester, N.H., and Preti Flaherty Beliveau Pachios & Haley has one in Concord, N.H.

Meanwhile, Gallagher Callahan & Gartell, an environmental law firm based in New Hampshire, has opened an office in Augusta.

The new rules require lawyers who practice out of state to have an active practice in their home state. They do not cover lawyers who have been disbarred.

“This will allow us to serve our clients in other states and will make it easier for law firms from other states to set up shop here,” said Charles Miller, managing partner at Bernstein Shur. “It’s going to give the public significantly more choice and more competition, and there is nothing wrong with that.”

AP-ES-11-29-04 1108EST

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