Using “Conflict Counsel” In Vetting Lateral Transitions
With the ever-increasing mobility of lawyers, accurately assessing conflicts of interest in any lateral transition is more important than ever. The consequences of getting it wrong are significant, ranging from potential disqualification and client liability issues to discipline.
Legal Ethics and Your Law Firm Partnership Agreement
You may agree that your firm’s partnership agreement, or shareholders’ agreement, and other firm governing documents, are critical to your firm’s business operations and success. And you would be right about that. But beyond business purposes, these firm agreements are critical to ensure compliance with your legal ethics duties. How so? Well-developed and drafted firm […]
California Ethics Opinions of 2021
With the new year quickly approaching, there is no better time than now for lawyers to take stock of their ethical obligations in order to minimize any risks of liability in the new year. A review of the ethics opinions published in California over this last year is a great place to start. Although ethics […]
Ethical Issues in Succession Planning at Your Firm
Planning for succession at your firm is a good idea for business reasons. It may mean that you can retire comfortably, having been compensated for the business you built, or it may mean that your family has a clear picture of what to expect if something unexpected should happen. Most importantly, however, a proper succession […]
Check Yourself on Attorney-Client Trust Accounts
Legal headlines recently have been awash in tales of wrongdoing related to attorney-client trust accounts. While your own trust account issues are, hopefully, less serious than grand theft, it’s a reminder that California law firm partners and managers should periodically review the rules for attorney-client trust account and regularly review compliance with the Rules. Here’s […]
Ethics Guidance For the New Normal of Attorney Work
As optimism grows for a return to some semblance of normal life, and the potential end of the pandemic may be in sight, California law firms are starting to face questions related to the details of their attorneys’ post-pandemic work life. Many of the questions related to attorneys working remotely already have come up. And […]
12 Steps to a Healthier Law Practice in 2020: Step 12 – Begin How You Want To End
2020 has shown us that so much in life is unpredictable, but your client relationships don’t necessarily have to be. Although you can’t foresee or control every aspect of your dealings with your clients, there are certain precautions you can take to better manage your risk of liability and other headaches. Start the new year off right by making sure that your engagement agreements are not only compliant and up-to-date, but that you set the tone for happy and healthy attorney-client relationships.
12 Steps to a Healthier Law Practice in 2020: Step 10 – Three’s A Crowd
Avoiding crowds is our reality at the moment in an effort to reduce the risk of contracting or spreading the COVID-19 coronavirus. Perhaps lawyers should take a cue from this pandemic and incorporate a similar precaution into our law practice in an effort to avoid unnecessary risks of liability.
12 Steps to a Healthier Law Practice in 2020: Step 8 – Communication is Key
How is summer over already? In November 2018, 69 new or amended California Rules of Professional Conduct (“CRPC”) were thrust upon California’s more than 250,000 lawyers. These rules were renumbered and reorganized to align with the American Bar Association’s (“ABA”) Model Rules and replaced the 46 ethics rules that California lawyers had been following for nearly 30 years. Despite […]
12 Steps to a Healthier Law Practice in 2020: Step 7 – The Practice of Law is Not a Dating Service
Happy July! In November 2018, 69 new or amended California Rules of Professional Conduct (“CRPC”) were thrust upon California’s more than 250,000 lawyers. These rules were renumbered and reorganized to align with the American Bar Association’s (“ABA”) Model Rules and replaced the 46 ethics rules that California lawyers had been following for nearly 30 years. Despite each […]
12 Steps to a Healthier Law Practice in 2020: Step 6 – Advise on the Law
California Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2.1 permits lawyers to provide advice to clients on how to comply with state law without the lawyer being subject to the specter of discipline for unavoidably facilitating the violation of federal law. Without legal representation, those who want to engage in conduct that is permitted under state law, but illegal under federal law, may not fully understand their rights, duties, and liabilities.
12 Steps to a Healthier Law Practice in 2020: Step 4 – Money Does Not Buy Happiness
A law practice driven by money and power is risky in a service-based industry regulated by rules intended, in relevant part, to protect the public and the integrity of the legal system and to promote confidence in the legal profession. Lawyers who instead focus on the quality of their services should not only develop better client relationships, but any job well done ought to ultimately breed success. Therefore, money may not buy happiness, but professionalism may.
12 Steps to a Healthier Law Practice in 2020: Step 3 – Avoid Conflict
Putting effort and energy into avoiding conflicts is good business. Conflicts of interest issues can be very costly, both to the firm’s finances and its reputation. Investing in a good conflict system and educating each lawyer in the firm about the conflict rules and risks will be paid back in spades. Properly managing your risk of liability from conflicts of interest may result in turning down work or spending more time vetting a lateral hire, but it will save you money in insurance costs, litigation defense expenses, settlement payments, and fighting disqualification motions and disciplinary complaints.
12 Steps to a Healthier Law Practice in 2020: Step 1 – Take Responsibility
The criterion that each California lawyer is responsible for his or her own competent (Rule 1.1) and diligent (Rule 1.3) ethical conduct is not new; however, three new ethics rules make clear how a lawyer can be held responsible for the conduct of others as well.
California Supreme Court Approves Major Revisions to Ethics Rules
The California Supreme Court yesterday approved a significant overhaul of California’s legal ethics rules, moving California’s rules closer to the structure of the ABA’s Model Rules for the first time. The Court’s Order approved 27 rules as submitted last year by the State Bar’s Commission for the Revision of the Rules of Professional Conduct, 42 […]
California Supreme Court Overturns Jewel Doctrine
The Jewel doctrine is no more in California. In Heller Ehrman v. Davis Wright Tremain, the California Supreme Court held that a dissolved law firm has no property interest in fees generated after dissolution for hourly matters that were in progress when the firm dissolved. The immediate implication is that a lawyer who leaves a […]
Jewel Doctrine Will be Revisited by California Supreme Court
The California Supreme Court is expected shortly to issue a decision in its review of Jewel v. Boxer, the long-standing and besieged case that stands for the proposition that a dissolved law firm has a right to recover profits for matters that departed partners take from the failed firm, absent an agreement otherwise. The Court […]
The Legal Ethics of Lawyer Wellness
The recent report of the ABA’s National Task Force for Lawyer Well-Being, entitled “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change,” is striking for several reasons. It’s the detailed description of the scope of the crisis in lawyer wellness, examined in a comprehensive analysis. It’s the tone of the report–an urgent call to action–which […]
Your Ethical Duties to Plan for Law Practice Succession
Unlike some states, California does not have specific legal ethics rules that require attorneys to adopt a law practice succession plan, there are several Rules of Professional Conduct that impose equivalent duties to plan. It’s not always easy to think about circumstances that could render you unable to continue practicing law–accidents, illness, disability, planned or unplanned retirement, or untimely […]
Navigating California’s Narrowing Attorney-Client Privilege
Two recent cases suggest that the attorney-client privilege in California is narrowing from its traditional robust scope. In LA County Board of Supervisors v. Superior Court (ACLU), the California Supreme Court held that law firm invoices are not categorically privileged, and may be subject to disclosure depending on the content of the invoices, and the […]
5 Law Firm Systems to Review for 2017
Properly managing a modern and profitable law firm in 2017 and beyond requires balancing vigilance and innovation. The legal headlines are full of emerging risks to law firms, including confidentiality breaches and technology disasters. The legal headlines are also full of competitive risks for law firms. Passive management of a law firm, even a successful one, is […]
Worry About the Conflicts that Your Software Probably Won’t Detect
Any law firm’s goal should be to avoid conflicts. That starts with detecting them, and today, most law firms have relatively robust conflicts-checking systems in place and in regular use. It’s fairly straightforward to deploy software that will keep a record of clients and permit searches to detect conflicts, or potential conflicts, when a new […]
Protecting the Attorney-Client Privilege for In-Firm Ethics Communications
When a client matter raises a legal ethics issue or, in the worst-case scenario, when a client accuses you of malpractice, it’s a good idea seek the advice of other lawyers at your firm. But maintaining the privilege of those communications within your firm, related to legal ethics issues or malpractice, is more difficult than it may […]
Tracking Proposed Revisions to California’s Rules of Professional Responsibility
California’s Commission for the Revision of the Rules of Professional Responsibility has proposed 68 new and amended rules for attorneys, and is seeking public comment on the proposed rules. California is the only state that whose professional responsibility rules do not track the ABA Model Rules. The Commission has issued an Executive Summary detailing the proposed and […]
California Supreme Court Will Review Arbitration, Advance Conflict Waivers, and Disgorgement of Fees
The California Supreme Court has granted review in Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, LLP v J-M Manufacturing Co., Inc. to address several legal ethics issues of critical importance to California law firms. The Court of Appeal in the case below held that the question of whether the firm’s arbitration provision was enforceable was for the court, not the arbitrators, to […]
Can Advance Conflict Waivers Ever Be Informed Consent?
Recent examples in California courts have demonstrated the limits of advance conflict waivers and the effects of these limits. Needless to say, finding out that an advance conflict waiver is not effective to resolve a conflict can come as a shock, because it generally happens after-the-fact. Recent cases suggest that attorneys and firms who use advance conflict […]
Is the Arbitration Provision in Your Firm’s Fee Agreement Properly Drafted?
Some recent California cases have illustrated the importance of a properly drafted arbitration provision in attorney-client fee agreements, and what is at stake. Typically, arbitration is vastly superior to litigation for law firms to resolve disputes with clients related to representation, including fee disputes. Arbitration is confidential, generally has limited discovery and streamlined procedures, and can […]
Mistakes were Made? Learn from the Post-Mortem Analysis
Assume that your firm has made a mistake that led to an ethical lapse: a conflict of interest with no informed consent, or a similar misstep. Once the actual fallout from the situation subsides, from a compliance perspective the relevant question is whether you can learn from these circumstances and avoid similar issues. For any law firm […]
Should Non-Attorneys Be Permitted to Practice (Some) Law?
Attorneys and bar associations nationwide are grappling with a few hard truths about the current practice of law. The legal profession is a highly regulated profession, including strict requirements for any person to be authorized to practice law. Among other things, you have to go to law school (mostly) and take and pass the bar exam for […]
Advance Conflict Waivers, Arbitration–and Fees–Tossed for Conflicts
The recent Second District Court of Appeal opinion in Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, LLP v J-M Manufacturing Co., Inc. sent a shock wave through California law firms. The case started when a firm sued a former client for $1.3 million in unpaid fees, after it had been disqualified from a matter for that client because of conflicts. The case ended […]
5 Reasons to Seek Independent Outside Ethics Counsel
Attorneys tend to view ethics compliance as something very personal, and firms correctly views ethics issues as an internal matter. Attorneys would not hesitate to engage outside counsel if a legal malpractice claim arose, but many do not yet have dedicated outside ethics counsel to advise as part of ongoing daily firm operations. Increasingly, there […]
5 Issues to Analyze When Your Law Firm is Considering a Merger
Law firm mergers are a fact of life for modern law practice. News of law firm mergers, or news of merger discussions, are a daily staple of practicing law. If your firm is considering a merger with another firm, you should independently analyze how the merger may impact your clients and your practice, and how […]
Analyzing Conflicts of Interest When You Join a Matter in Progress
It is axiomatic that for new matters, attorneys and firms perform a conflicts check to determine whether there are any actual or potential conflicts, because the California Rules of Professional Conduct, Rules 3-310(B), (C), and (E), prohibit attorneys from representing clients with adverse interests, absent informed written consent of the clients. But when an attorney substitutes […]
Can You Sue Your Own Current Clients? Umm…No.
In Abedia v. Sheikhpour, the California Court of Appeal addressed, and resolved, an issue that may seem self-evident: an attorney cannot sue his or her own current clients, and a client cannot waive actual conflicts in that circumstance. In Abedia, in the underlying case, plaintiffs sued defendant alleging fraud related to an investment in a gas […]
The Limitations of Advance Conflict Waivers for Corporate Subsidiaries
In Lennar Mare Island, LLC v. Steadfast Insurance Company, a district court judge in the Eastern District of California granted a motion to disqualify defendant’s law firm, and illuminated the conflict analysis for advance waivers and corporate subsidiaries. The case involved a dispute regarding environmental clean-up obligations for Mare Island, a former U.S. Navy base […]
Can You Make Ethics Compliance a Competitive Advantage?
Among the people who think about the future of law practice and of lawyers, there is a developing recognition that ethics compliance can be a powerful competitive advantage in practice. Most lawyers view ethics compliance as a necessary (it is about as necessary as it gets) part of practicing law, but would you characterize ethics […]
5 Legal Ethics Compliance Systems to Review Today
Ensuring that every element of your practice complies with the highest ethical standards is not just required, it is also good business. Or, to be more specific, permitting an ethical lapse is very, very bad business. A review of these systems may lead to more questions than answers. But asking the right questions is the […]
Can a California Attorney Advise Clients Regarding Medical Marijuana?
The Bar Association of San Francisco in June issued Opinion 2015-1, asserting that a California attorney may ethically represent a California client regarding a medical marijuana dispensary and related matters, providing that the attorney advises the client of potential liability under federal law and is aware of the attorney’s own risks under federal law. The […]
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 […]
Fearing Fear Itself in Legal Ethics
Many practicing attorneys could summarize their legal ethics compass with precisely two time-worn bromides from law school. Don’t sleep with your clients. Don’t commingle your clients’ funds. These are still words to live by. So if you are complying, then keep up the good work. These concepts stuck with us because law schools do an […]
About the Editor
With more than 20 years of experience in law firms—including large, medium, and small firms, and running his own law firm for years—Mr. O’Rielly counsels and advises California law firms on critical issues at every stage of law firm life. He provides insight, analysis, and judgment to California law firms seeking to solve their most important challenges
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- Conflicts of interest
- Disqualification Motions
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- In-house ethics
- Judicial ethics
- Legal ethics audits
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