The Latin term “pro hac vice” literally means “for this turn.” It is used in a court of law to refer to a situation in which a lawyer is allowed to practice in a specific case despite not being licensed by the regional bar. Most commonly, this situation happens when a lawyer from a different state requests permission to practice pro hac vice because he or she is offering expertise to a case.
When a lawyer wishes to practice pro hac vice, a formal “motion to appear pro hac vice” must be filed with the court, usually by a sponsoring lawyer who has been admitted to the bar in the state or region where the court is located. The application may need to include a statement from the lawyer's local bar, stating that he or she is a member in good standing, and a filing fee may need to be paid for the court to consider the motion.
Filing a motion to appear pro hac vice does not guarantee that the motion will be granted. The court reserves the right to reject such applications, for a wide variety of reasons. Most classically, a lawyer appears pro hac vice either because he or she has just moved to a new state, and plans to apply to the bar but wishes to start practice immediately, or because an out of state lawyer has been retained for his or her skills in a particular type of case.
When lawyers move to new states, they usually try to apply to the local bar as soon as possible, often before they move, to minimize the interruption to their legal practices. Some states also offer bar reciprocity, which means that lawyers from one state can practice in another, or take a shortened version of the bar exam to be admitted to a participating state's bar. It is also possible to take multistate bar exams, which will allow the lawyer to practice law in several states if the exam and background checks are passed.
Commonly, lawyers who appear pro hac vice appear side-by-side with local counsel. The local lawyers are generally more versed in the regional law, and they may be accustomed to working with the judge and courtroom staff. They can ensure that the case runs reasonably smoothly, and that the visiting lawyer does not make any errors which could lead to problems with the trial or verdict.