Massachusetts law about lawyers

Laws, cases, and web sources on admission to the bar, practice of law, and attorney discipline in Massachusetts.

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Table of Contents


Bar exam information, Mass. Board of Bar Examiners.

Applying for admission on motion, Supreme Judicial Court for the County of Suffolk.

Out of state counsel: Pro hac vice procedures, Mass. Appeals Court.

Mandatory online registration for attorneys, Mass. Board of Bar Overseers, effective September 1, 2016.

Rules Pertaining to Bar Admission in Massachusetts:

Selected cases

Mitchell v. Board of Bar Examiners, 452 Mass. 582 (2008)
A graduate of a wholly-online law school (which was thus unqualified for ABA accreditation) could sit for the Massachusetts bar exam.

Practice of law


MGL c. 221, §§ 41, 46A, 46B, 46C & 46E Authorized and unauthorized practice of law


Hiding in plain sight: disciplinary rules you need to know that aren’t found in the Rules of Professional Conduct, Mass. Board of Bar Overseers. SJC Rule 4:01 Bar discipline.

Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct, SJC Rule 3:07
Rules governing the practice of law in Massachusetts.

Practicing with Professionalism Course for New Lawyers, SJC Rule 3:16
Requires all newly-admitted lawyers to complete a day-long program on professionalism. See Professionalism Course for New Lawyers.

Selected cases

Bassichis v. Flores, 490 Mass. 143 (2022)
SJC dismissed a complaint against an attorney, who allegedly made fraudulent misrepresentations to the court during a divorce trial, on the basis of litigation privilege. Includes discussion on litigation privilege.

Commonwealth v. Dew, 492 Mass. 254 (2023)
A Superior Court judge erred in denying the criminal defendant's postconviction motion for a new trial and for leave to withdraw his guilty pleas based on deprivation of his right to effective assistance of counsel, where defense counsel's deep-seated animus against persons of the Muslim faith and his racism against Black persons, demonstrated by counsel's vitriolic social media posts (some contemporaneous with his representation of the defendant) and manifest in his treatment of the defendant -- a Black, Muslim man -- during the representation presented an actual conflict of interest in this case, and the defendant was not required to prove how his counsel's bigotry might have affected the plea deal or otherwise impaired the representation.

Commonwealth v. Watt, 493 Mass. 322 (2024)
The court granted a new trial to a defendant convicted of first-degree murder because his trial counsel slept for a significant portion or during an important aspect of the trial. This deprived the defendant of the right to counsel under Article 12 and created a substantial risk of miscarriage of justice.

Deputy Chief Counsel for the Public Defender Division of CPCS v. Acting First Justice of Lowell District Court, 477 Mass. 178 (2017)
Under the plain language of G. L. c. 211D, § 5, which is reinforced by S.J.C. Rule 3:10, § 5, the Committee for Public Counsel Services has sole authority to assign counsel to indigent criminal defendants, including those in a drug court session in District Court.

Lexington Public Schools v. K.S., 489 Mass. 309 (2022)
An assistant principal who filed and pursued a CRA petition (which was a standard Juvenile Court form) did not engage in the unauthorized practice of law.

In the Matter of Bott, 462 Mass. 430 (2012) 
"[A]lthough mediation does not in all circumstances constitute the practice of law, an attorney who has resigned from the practice of law while the subject of disciplinary investigation ... or who has been disbarred or suspended from the practice of law... may be prohibited from serving as a mediator when to do so would be perceived by the public as an extension of the attorney's practice of law, or when the conduct of the mediation is so closely related to the practice of law as to constitute legal work within the meaning of S.J.C. Rule 4:01, § 17 (7)."

Real Estate Bar Association for Massachusetts v. National Real Estate Information Services, 459 Mass. 512 (2011)
The "closing or settlement of [real property conveyances] require[s] not only the presence but the substantive participation of an attorney on behalf of the mortgage lender, and ... certain services connected with real property conveyances constitute the practice of law in Massachusetts." Outlines what constitutes unauthorized practice of law in real estate transactions.

Web sources 

Board of Bar Overseers
"The Board of Bar Overseers was established by the Supreme Judicial Court in 1974 as an independent administrative body to investigate and evaluate complaints against attorneys." They have over 80 articles on their site about ethical issues for lawyers. This is the place to start research on an ethical issue.

DOI Bulletin 2007-15: Written Notice to Claimants of Payment of Claims in Third Party Settlements
Insurance companies are directed to notify clients when payment of settlement of $5000 or more has been made to the client's attorney.

E-mail and attorney-client confidentiality, Mass. Bar Association ethics opinion 00-01
"A lawyer's use of unencrypted Internet e-mail to engage in confidential communications with his or her client does not violate Massachusetts Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6(a) in usual circumstances. Legal and technical hurdles to the interception of Internet e-mail give rise to a reasonable expectation on the part of lawyer and client that such communications will remain private. The lawyer must be careful, however, to ensure that confidential messages are not sent to e-mail addresses that are reasonably accessible to persons other than the client, and to avoid using unencrypted Internet e-mail in contravention of the client's express instructions."

Ethical withdrawal from representation: Massachusetts, National Law Review, January 2015. 
Provides an overview of the applicable rules, grounds for withdrawal, and manner of withdrawal.

Ethics helpline, Mass. Board of Bar Overseers.
Office of Bar Counsel attorneys guide Massachusetts licensed attorneys in answering difficult ethical questions.

The ethics of charging and collecting fees, Mass. Board of Bar Overseers, 2015.

Featured practice tips from the Superior Court bench, MCLE.
A "series of short 3- to 5-minute video briefings offering practical and sage advice from more than 80 active and alumni members of the Massachusetts Superior Court."

Mass. Bar Association Committee on Professional Ethics Opinions
Opinions published from 1973 to 2017.

Massachusetts IOLTA
Includes information and guidelines for both attorneys and financial institutions.

Metadata: What is it, and what are my ethical duties?,, 2009.
Metadata is the information you don't see when you open a document, but is retained and can be viewed. Includes previous versions, comments, authors, and more. This article discusses the dangers of metadata in digital files, the ethical responsibilities for attorneys both in their own documents and in viewing documents sent by others, and how to avoid metadata issues.

The wild west of artificial intelligence, Mass. Board of Bar Overseers, 2024. 
Reviews the definition of A.I. and the pertinent rules of professional conduct.

Print sources

A civility-based model for new lawyers: Understanding your moral compass, interpersonal skills, and ethical inventory before practicing law, ABA, 2021.

Conflicts of interest in the practice of law: Causes and cures, Banks and Jordan, 2015 with supplement.

"Custom and practice" unmasked: the legal history of Massachusetts’s experience with the unauthorized practice of law, 94 Mass. L. Rev. 124 (2013). Available through document delivery service.

Ethical and practical considerations for departing a law firm, MCLE, 2023.

Ethical lawyering in Massachusetts, MCLE, 2021.

Ethical standards in the public sector: A guide for government lawyers, clients, and public officials, ABA, 2022.

Family law ethical landmines, MCLE, 2015.

Hanging your shingle, MCLE, 2020.

The lawyer’s guide to buying, selling, merging and closing a law practice, ABA, 2008.

Legal ethics and social media: A practitioner’s handbook, ABA, 2022.

Navigating conflicts and other ethical litigation landmines, MCLE, 2021. 

Limited Assistance Representation (LAR)

Limited assistance representation, Mass. Court System.
Massachusetts courts may allow attorneys to assist self-represented litigants with selected documents or appearances without taking on full representation. Includes links to information for each court department.

Print sources

Building your practice with limited assistance representation, MCLE, 2013.

Limited Assistance Representation (LAR) training, MBA, 2017.

Tips & tools for using Limited Assistance Representation in your probate & family court practice, MCLE, 2023.

Choosing, hiring, and working with a lawyer

Finding a lawyer
Provides links to information on choosing a lawyer, lawyer referral, legal aid, and limited assistance representation sources. This page also includes links to sources for finding lawyers in other states or countries.

Working with a lawyer 
Provides information on paying a lawyer, confidentiality and more.

Alternative Dispute Resolution
The Massachusetts Trial Court offers court-connected ADR as an alternative to litigation in every Trial Court Department. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a generic term used to describe certain processes in which an impartial third person assists parties in settling a case without the need for trial.

Complaints and attorney discipline

Bar discipline: SJC Rule 4:01
Rules governing attorney discipline.

Clients' Security Board of the SJC
"Board members manage and distribute the monies in the Fund to members of the public who have sustained a financial loss caused by the dishonest conduct of a member of the bar acting as an attorney or a fiduciary." Site includes information on filing a claim, including forms, as well as their rules and annual report.

Filing a complaint against an attorney
Explains the process of pursuing an ethical complaint against an attorney regarding professional conduct. They also attempt to assist in resolving attorney-client disputes.

Legal Fee Arbitration Board, Mass. Bar Association.
The Massachusetts Bar Association Legal Fee Arbitration Board (FAB) "exists primarily to help resolve legal fee disputes between attorneys and between attorneys and their clients."


Ellis v. Dept. of Industrial Accidents, 463 Mass. 541 (2012)
G. L. c. 152, § 7C, which authorizes the senior judge of the Department of Industrial Accidents to discipline an attorney by permanently or temporarily suspending the attorney's right to  practice before the department, violates art. 30 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, because the statute infringes on a core judicial function, i.e., the power to admit and remove officers of the court, and to regulate their professional conduct.

Print sources

Legal malpractice, Thomson West, annual.

Massachusetts bar discipline : history, practice, and procedure.  Board of Bar Overseers of the Supreme Judicial Court, 2018.

Professional malpractice, Mass. Practice v.51, Part II, Legal Malpractice.

Understanding the lawyer disciplinary process in Massachusetts, MCLE, 2022.

Contact   for Massachusetts law about lawyers

Last updated: March 20, 2024

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