The attorney needs to be admitted to that particular federal district to practice before a district court in that district.
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It is done by request to each federal court in which the attorneys wishes to appear.
The above is general legal and business analysis. It is not "legal advice" but analysis, and different lawyers may analyse this matter differently, especially if there are additional facts not reflected in the question. I am not your attorney until retained by a written retainer agreement signed by both of us. I am only licensed in California. See also avvo.com terms and conditions item 9, incorporated as if it was reprinted here.
Attorneys are licensed to practice law by one or more states. Attorneys cannot appear in any court, state or federal, without being admitted to that court. Admission is not automatic -- an attorney must apply for admission and pay an application processing fee and/or admission fee. The application process can include submitting a questionnaire under penalty of perjury, providing multiple references, submitting to background checks including fingerprinting, sending law school transcripts, and more. Attorneys must be sworn in to practice before that court.
Usually, state courts will admit attorneys who pass the bar exam of the same state and meet all the other requirements. Some courts will admit an attorney licensed in certain other states without requiring them to pass another bar exam. California does not admit any attorney who has not passed the California Bar Exam.
Courts also admit out-of-state attorneys for one specific case. This is called a pro hac vice admission. It usually requires an attorney within the state to sponsor the out-of-state attorney plus payment of a fee.
Note some states, including California, allow attorneys to practice law in-house for one particular employer, often a large corporation, without having to pass another bar exam.
Attorneys can appear before federal agencies anywhere on the same basis anyone else can. However, attorneys are still held to the requirements of an attorney with respect to their clients.
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Social security, immigration, etc. hearings on an administrative level do not require admission to any bar at all. Caveat, a disbarrment may prevent practice before these bodies. Patent practice requires admission to the Federal Patent Bar, which is nationwide. Each Federal District Court has its own bar, but admission to any state or D.C. will make admission almost a rubber stamp. U.S. Tax Court is also admissible with any state or DC license without an exam. I believe the various circuit courts of appeal and the Supreme Court may require a district court admission as a prerequisite. The Supreme Court is quite a big deal, with a trip to Washington, etc.
The foregoing answer does not establish an attorney client relationship, is not confidential, and should not be relied upon in place of an actual consultation with an attorney. Mr. Boone is licensed to practice in Massachusetts, before the U.S. Tax Court, and the Federal District Court of Massachusetts. Most initial consultations are free. Further information is available on my profile and at www.boonehenkofflaw.com.
All attorneys are permitted to interpret and provide advice on questions of federal law, in my view. The same would not be true for state law. For example, it would likely be a violation of the rules of professional conduct for me to advise a client on California law as I am only licensed in Pennsylvania. All federal district courts have different admission rules. Some will allow attorneys to practice if they are in good standing to practice in any state. Some will only allow admissions to attorneys admitted in the state in which the federal court sits. Some federal courts require attorneys to actually take a separate bar exam. This was the case in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida until that practice was abandoned. However, an attorney wishing to practice in that particular court may file a pro hac vice motion and associate with an attorney admitted to practice in that court provided they pay a fee and the judge grants the motion.
If you found this answer helpful, let me know by clicking the "Mark as Helpful" button at the bottom of this answer. This answer is provided for informational purposes only. This answer does not constitute legal advice and it does not create an attorney/client relationship. More importantly, the information contained in this answer should not be relied on. You should consult an attorney who practices in the relevant area of the relevant jurisdiction.