Is Your Law Practice Due for a Legal Ethics Audit?

As a practicing lawyer, you may have missed an emerging consensus on something that affects your practice every day: your firm should regularly conduct a detailed ethics audit.

The changing legal landscape has created its own ethics challenges. Technology has made it easier for boutique firms to exist, and to compete against large firms. But large firms typically have dedicated in-house attorneys—and significant resources—focused on compliance with ethics rules. These costs are spread over hundreds or thousands of lawyers. If not properly managed, ethics compliance can become a competitive disadvantage for small and mid-sized firms.

For practicing attorneys, the legal world is changing rapidly. Understanding and properly applying the ethics rules is increasingly important. Some have even suggested that it will be a critical way to establish a competitive advantage as the future of law unfolds.

Many of the legal ethics rules haven’t changed for a long time. Client conflicts are still client conflicts, for example, and that’s not likely to change. So what’s really so different? The applications of the rules, for one thing. You may have gone to law school before the Internet existed (not to mention blogging, tweeting, instagramming, pinterest-ing…and so on). Now there are ethics rules governing all of these activities. Have you ever wondered whether blogging is attorney advertising? You should.

The ethics rules are also adapting to govern things that are more complex. It’s not too difficult to understand a rule that requires attorneys to be competent in handling client matters. But it can be difficult to analyze and embrace a rule that requires attorneys to be competent in technology like e-discovery. What obligations does such a rule impose on attorneys? We tend not to be technology experts, but you don’t want to find out the scope of these obligations after your client has deleted critical data on your watch.

Dental cleanings. Check. Change the batteries in your smoke detector. Check. Schedule a recurring ethics audit for your practice. . .

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