A frequent tool in the defense arsenal of lawyers facing a disqualification motion is a claim that there was an “unreasonable delay” in bringing the motion. Some lawyers and clients tend to assume, incorrectly, that a moving party’s knowledge of a disqualifying conflict will be presumed if the movant was a party to a former […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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.
“The duty of a lawyer, both to his client and to the legal system, is to represent his client zealously within the bounds of the law.” CA Bar Formal Opinion No. 2015-194 at 2 (citing Hawk v. Super. Ct. (1974) 42 Cal. App. 3d 108, 126). Unfortunately, California’s laws do not set adequate boundaries. Without enforceable rules and laws, civility in California is merely aspirational.
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.
Fall is here, but most of us are still at home … many of us with our kids! After months of sheltering-in-place and social distancing, I think we can all agree that location does matter. In November 2018, 69 new or amended California Rules of Professional Conduct (“CRPC”) were thrust upon California’s more than 250,000 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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.
This article comprehensively explores California's Rule of Professional Conduct 5.4 and the access to justice debate in California and around the country concerning whether lawyers should be permitted to share legal fees and law firm ownership with nonlawyers as highlighted by the recent California litigation involving LegalMatch.com and the antiquated rules and regulations of lawyer referral services.
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.
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.
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.
An increasingly common problem for partners considering departing a law firm and joining another is whether and to what extent the partner can share confidential business information about the lawyer’s practice with the new firm without violating legal and ethical obligations. It is difficult to imagine any law firm agreeing to bring in a lateral […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
California attorneys have a well-established duty to be zealous advocates for their clients’ interests. But the boundaries for that zealous advocacy are not always clear. The California Rules of Professional Conduct do not contain a rule analogous to ABA Model Rule 4.1 and related comments, addressing the boundaries of acceptable puffery, which is ok, and false representations of material fact, […]
Several significant amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure became effective on December 1, changing obligations for attorneys and parties in civil litigation in federal court. Significant amendments to California’s Code of Civil Procedure, affecting demurrer procedure, 998 offers, peremptory challenges, expedited trials in limited jurisdiction cases, among other changes, also took effect this […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
The Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility of the State Bar of California earlier this year issued a detailed advisory Opinion on the scope of an attorney’s duties of competence in connection with technology issues in litigation, specifically regarding electronically stored information (“ESI”) and e-discovery. Formal Opinion No. 2015-193 provides that an attorney has an ongoing […]
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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- Attorney-client relationships
- Attorney marketing
- Client confidentiality
- Client solicitation
- Conflicts of interest
- Disqualification Motions
- Fee agreements and funding
- Fiduciary duties
- In-house ethics
- Judicial ethics
- Legal ethics audits
- Legal Ethics Rules
- Professionalism and Civility
- Representation ethics
- Technology ethics
- Unauthorized practice
- Virtual practice and outsourcing