Monday, April 3, 2017

Amendments to Illinois CLE requirements

Earlier today, the Illinois Supreme Court amended the Illinois rule that imposes a minimum number of hours of CLE dedicated to Professional Responsibility.  The Rule will still require Illinois lawyers to complete 6 hours of professional responsibility CLE every reporting period, but effective July 1, 2017, of those 6 hours, one hour must be devoted to issues of diversity and inclusion, and one hour must be devoted to mental health and substance abuse.  

You can read the Court’s press release here and the revised Rule here. The Commission on Professionalism has also answered some FAQs for both attorneys and providers regarding this upcoming requirement, including effective dates, application procedures and eligible courses and activities.

I am not sure I like this rule.  I don't understand why require certain topics and not others.  

Friday, March 31, 2017

Want to help the economy? Don't cut legal aid

Over at Above the Law, David A. Lash, the Managing Counsel for Pro Bono and Public Interest Services at O’Melveny & Myers LLP, has published a short article on the importance of supporting legal aid.  In it, he argues that "allocation of funding for legal aid is a wise investment. In addition to the lives it saves, investment in lawyers for the poor, on a strictly economic, cost-benefit analysis, is an investment worth making. For every dollar spent in support of legal services, an astonishing rate of return results. By any measure, an investment yield of ten-to-one is an investment worth making."

You should read the article here.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejects argument that rules that ban lawyers from raising capital from non lawyers are unconstitutional -- UPDATED

In an important and highly anticipated opinion, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has rejected an argument against the rules of professional conduct which ban lawyers from accepting capital investment from non-laywers.  In this particular case, the specific rules challenged were those of the state of New York, but the reasoning of the court is likely to influence courts in other jurisdicitons.

The ruling is a big blow to those who have been proposing adopting different rules, now in use in the UK and Australia, that would allow lawyers to practice law through "alternative business structures."

On the other hand, the ruling should not be unexpected since the American legal profession has proven to be very reluctant to adopt such a view.  There is a lot of literature about this and it was the hot issue in Professional Responsibility circles for the last couple of years. 

Many thought the ABA was ready to point the way toward change when, in 2014, it created the Commission on the Future of Legal Services and charged it with the task of studying how legal services are delivered in other countries and of recommending innovations that would improve the delivery of, and the public’s access to, legal services in the United States.

Yet, when the Commission presented its final report at the 2016 ABA Annual Meeting it essentially merely encouraged states to “explore how legal services are delivered by entities that employ new technologies and internet-based platforms and then assess the benefits and risks to the public.”  As for the notion of alternative business structures, the Commission’s report’s language was even more tentative, merely stating that “[c]ontinued exploration of alternative business structures will be useful.”  For my comment on the Commission's report go here.  I also have a short article on the debate regarding the future of the profession in 41 Journal of the Legal Profession 1 (2016).

Not content on waiting for the ABA to act, the law firm Jacoby & Meyers, challenged the constitutionality of a collection of New York regulations and laws that together prevent for‐profit law firms from accepting capital investment from non‐lawyers.

In its opinion rejecting the argument, the court explained that the law firm alleged that, if they were allowed to accept outside investment, they would be able to—and would—improve their infrastructure and efficiency and as a result reduce their fees and serve more clients, including clients who might otherwise be unable to afford their services, and that the challenged rules unconstitutionally infringe the firm's rights as lawyers to associate with clients and to access the courts—rights that are grounded, they argue, in the First Amendment.

The District Court dismissed the complaint, concluding that the firm failed to state a claim for violation of any constitutional right and that, even if such rights were to be recognized, the challenged regulations withstand scrutiny because they are rationally related to a legitimate state interest.

The Court of Appeals agreed and affirmed.  You can read the full opinion here.

UPDATE (3-28-17):  The ABA Journal has a short post on the story here.  The NY Personal Injury Blog has a comment here.

Yet another case on whether a fee sharing contract that does not follow the rules can be enforced

A few days ago I posted a note about a recent case on the issue of whether a fee sharing contract that does not strictly meet all the requirements of the rules of professional conduct can be enforced.  Since then, I have learned that the issue is currently under review by the Illinois Supreme Court.  You can listen to the oral argument here.

This is an interesting question and there are a few cases out there on the subject.  I will write a longer comment on the case soon.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Is a fee sharing contract that violates the rules of professional conduct enforceable?

A few years ago I reported on an Illinois case that held that a contract that violated the rules of professional conduct could not be enforceable.  I did not like the decision, and my comments on it are here.

I was reminded of this case because just a couple of days I ago I read that a court in Washington DC recently reached a different result.  The Legal Profession blog has a report here.

ABA is seeking comments on proposal to amend advertising and solitication rules -- UPDATED

Feb. 24, 2017 
The ABA Standing Committee on Ethics & Professional Responsibility is currently accepting comments on APRL’s comprehensive proposal which seeks to standardize the rules and focuses regulation on false and misleading communications about legal services. It includes amendments to Model Rules 7.1, Communications Concerning a Lawyer’s Services; 7.2, Advertising; 7.3, Solicitation of Clients; 7.4, Communications of Fields of Practice and Specialization; and 7.5, Firm Names and Letterheads. The APRL proposal can be found here.  For more information, go to the ABA website here.

UPDATE (3-11-17):  The Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism has published an article summarizing the debate on this issue here.

Tennessee adopts duty of competence regarding "technology"; Two recent articles explore the meaning of such a duty

Last week, the Supreme Court of Tennessee issued an order adopting a number of amendments to the state's rules of professional conduct, including adopting a duty of technology competence.  Twenty seven states have now adopted such a duty.  Law Sites has more details here.

Meanwhile, Law Technology Today has published a two part article on the ethical duty of technology competence.  Part I is here; Part II is here.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

New Ohio opinion reminds us of the difference between fees and expenses

The Ohio Board of Professional Conduct recently issued an advisory opinion on lawyer advertising that emphasizes the need to be clear about the difference between fees and expenses.  The opinion, Advisory Opinion 2017-01, states that lawyers who provide services on a contingent fee basis may not use statements such as “There’s no charge unless we win your case,” or “No fee without recovery,” if the lawyer intends to recover the value of litigation costs and expenses from the client. If a lawyer intends to recover advanced costs and expenses of litigation from the client, a disclaimer is required in the advertisement that explains the client’s obligations for repayment.

Friday, March 3, 2017

California Committee issues final draft of opinion on whether blogs are subject to advertising rules

Legal Ethics in Motion is reporting that the California Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct has finalized an opinion on whether attorney-authored blogs should be governed by the advertising regulations. The Committee concluded that blogs should be governed as attorney advertising if the blog directly or indirectly expresses the attorney’s availability for professional employment. Thus, a blog that is a part of a firm’s professional website is governed by the advertising guidelines.  “Stand-alone” blogs, or blogs that exists independently of any website an attorney maintains or uses for professional marketing purposes, are also subject to the rules if its content has the same effect as professional blogs.  For more information go here.

New York State Bar Association launches new platform to provide better access to legal representation

The New York State Bar Association, and Legal.io, a developer of referral-network and marketplace platforms for the legal industry, have teamed up to launch a state-of-the-art lawyer referral platform that they say will significantly expand access to legal services in that state.  Interestingly, the developers of this new platform have been reported to describe it "as a more ethical alternative to privately run referral sites such as Avvo..." It will serve New York residents seeking legal help as well as businesses anywhere seeking advice on New York law.  Law Sites has more information here.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Judge finds party waived privilege by placing information on unprotected file sharing website

Earlier this month a federal magistrate judge in Virginia held that placing privileged materials on an unprotected file-sharing site waived a plaintiff's attorney-client privilege and work product protection for those materials.  The case is called Harleysville Ins. Co. v. Holding Funeral Home, Inc.  (also here).  For more details, go to 33 Law. Man. Prof. Conduct 76.  The ABA Journal has more information here.

Although some jurisdictions are divided on the issue of whether accidental disclosure automatically waives the privilege, in this case the judge held that the party's actions "were the cyber world equivalent of leaving its claims file on a bench in the public square and telling its counsel where they could find it. It is hard to imagine an act that would be more contrary to protecting the confidentiality of information than to post that information to the world wide web."

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Legal ethics professors file disciplinary complaint against Kellyanne Conway - UPDATED

If you saw the original story, scroll down to the end for an update:

I am sure you have heard by now that fifteen professors of legal ethics have sent a letter to the Washington DC Office of Disciplinary Counsel arguing that Kellyanne Conway has incurred in multiple violations of Rule 8.4(c) which recognizes as misconduct engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.

The complaint has sparked a spirited debate among ethicists and other commentators. It certainly dominated the discussion for most of the day yesterday in the listserv of the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers.

Some of the debate has centered on whether the complaint has any basis in the rules [it does]; whether the rule is (or should be considered to be, rather) unconstitutional [it hasn't and there is precedent in many jurisdictions to suggest it wouldn't] and whether the bar has the authority to regulate Conway's conduct since it was not in the practice of law [there is precedent in many jurisdictions to support the view that it does].  Also, a separate question is whether the bar would (or should) spend resources on a complaint based on these types of allegations.

Given that the answer to that last question is that disciplinary agencies usually do not go after lawyers for relatively "minor" and or "private" instances of dishonesty, the issue depends on how important you think Conway's conduct (or alleged misconduct) really is. 

I am sure that if you "google" (a word that is now a verb) the story, you will find a lot of comments.  Here are just a few:

You can read the complaint itself here.

The Washington Post reports the story here.

Above the Law has a short statement that starts "It’s becoming increasingly likely that Kellyanne Conway isn’t a real person so much as a Professional Responsibility issue-spotter made flesh. Between making up terrorist attacks or shilling Ivanka’s crummy baubles or generally degraded political discourse by treating it like a criminal trial, Kellyanne’s had a busy month of run-ins with the generally accepted principles of legal ethics." 

Jonathan Turley argues the complaint is not justified and lacks credibility.

Attorney Paul Alan Levy criticizes the complaint on First Amendment grounds here.

The ABA Journal reports here.

UPDATE (2/27/17):  Professor Steven Lubet, a Legal Ethics professor at Northwestern, criticizes the complaint here

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Metadata Fair Game in Texas?

As reported in Legal Ethics in Motion, a recent opinion of a Texas bar panel concludes that there is no duty to inform opposing counsel that that opposing counsel sent a document containing metadata.   Moreover, Texas rules do not prohibit searching for and extracting metadata from documents. Of the nineteen jurisdictions that have issued opinions with specific requirements regarding attorneys’ obligation when transmitting or receiving documents containing metadata, Texas is only the third state to opine that its rules do not require notification to the sender of the document.

For a current survey of the state of the law regarding metadata, check out this page in the ABA's website.  For more on the opinion in Texas, go here.

Illinois State Bar Association issues Opinion on using cloud services to store client information

Back in October, the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA) issued a Professional Conduct Advisory Opinion stating that a lawyer may use cloud-based services to store client information as long as the lawyer takes reasonable measures to ensure that the client information remains confidential and is protected from breaches.

Carefully choosing an internet cloud space provider is, of course, the first step a lawyer must take in order to comply with the duty.  But, it is important to note that the opinion clearly states that a lawyer does not comply with the obligation to protect the client information by merely selecting (however carefully) a reputable provider.   Thus, the opinion concludes that lawyers must conduct periodic reviews and regularly monitor existing practices to determine if the client information is adequately secured and protected.  This means lawyers can not simply rely on the providers, the lawyers themselves must do something.  And to do something, the lawyers must know what it is they are dealing with.  As I say to my students, lawyers must become personally knowledgeable in computer science of employ someone who is.

States continue to adopt the ABA's suggested language on a duty of competence related to "technology" and this opinion, obviously, follows the trend.  All lawyers are now expected to know about, and understand, the advantages and the risks of using technological advances such as cloud storage.  As reported recently, Florida lawyers are now required to take CLE credits on technology issues.  As technology advances, lawyers are expected to keep up.

You can read the ISBA opinion here.  For information on the current state of the law regarding ethical issues and cloud computing, check out this page in the ABA's website.

Thanks to Ethics in Motion for the update and the link.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Florida adopts duty of technology competence and a requirement regarding technology CLE -- Updated

October 1, 2016. 
Last week the Supreme Court of Florida became the 25th state to adopt the duty of technological competence that the ABA adopted in its recent amendments to the Model Rules.  That's not terribly surprising as the language of the Model Rules usually eventually finds its way into state rules.

However, the Florida Supreme Court did go a bit further.  As explained by the court, the amendment "add[s] language to the comment providing that, in order to maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should engage in continuing study and education, including an understanding of the risks and benefits associated with the use of technology.

Go here for more information and a copy of the Court's order.   The ABA Journal online also has the story here.

Interestingly, once it is decided that having knowledge about technology is part of the duty of competence, it follows that it will become an element of the standard of care for malpractice cases. 

UPDATE 2/12/17:  The ABA Journal has a story here.

A recently launched company helps consumers find lawyers based on their win rates

Law Sites has a story and a critique of a recently launched company helps consumers find lawyers based on their win rates.  The ABA Journal also has the story here.  Although I believe the company is genuinely trying to provide access to lawyers for people who don't necessarily know how to find a good lawyer, I think this approach is, to put it mildly, dumb.  Maybe with some major changes they can come up with something that will provide better information for consumers, but the initial idea does not make much sense to me.

The first time the idea was discussed, about a year ago, when a different company proposed the same approach, it was received with negative reviews and the company abandoned the idea.

There are many reasons why using "winning records" as a measure of attorney quality.  First, not all legal services can be measured in terms of wins and losses.  Second, the vast, VAST, majority of cases don't go to trial, so any win-loss records based on trial results only measures a minimally small number of litigated cases.  Third, in those cases that settle, both clients can easily feel they got a "win" when their lawyers exceed their expectations as to the terms of the settlement.  An approach to measuring skill based on winning records does not take into account negotiation skills which, needless to say, are important in litigation. A defendant's lawyer who gets a settlement that saves the client a lot of money may be much more skilled than a plaintiff's lawyer who claims to have "won" the settlement. Simply stated "winning" or "losing" if it can be identified as an actual result to begin with, is not a reliable measure of lawyering skill. Providing consumers with such limited and misleading information may actually be counterproductive. 

Ethical Considerations When Switching from Criminal Defense to the Prosecution

Here is a new short article on ethical considerations when switching from criminal defense to the prosecution published by the New York Legal Ethics Reporter.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Ethical Implications of Emergent Technologies

Last week I discussed the comment to Model Rule 1.1 which makes it an element of the duty of competence to understand, and stay current on, issues related to "technology."  As if on cue, yesterday the New York Legal Ethics Reported posted a short article with an update on some of the issues.  So, to help you comply with your duties under MR 1.1, here is the link.  You are welcome!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

ABA approves new rule on CLE

Just a few days ago, the ABA House of Delegates adopted a new Model  Rule  for  Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE).  You can find the text of the rule and the report in support of the proposal here.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Idaho Supreme Court abandons actual innocence requirement for legal malpractice actions against former criminal defense attorneys

Just about a year ago I reported (here) that the two most recent decisions on whether a convicted criminal defendant had to prove actual innocence in order to recover for malpractice against his or her former lawyer had broken away from the majority view on the issue.  A few months later, however, the Washington State Supreme Court reversed the trend by adhering to the majority view and holding that a criminal defendant must establish actual innocence to sue the defense attorney for malpractice.

Now comes news that last week the Idaho Supreme Court has abandoned the actual innocence rule in a case called Molen v. Christian.  In part, the court concluded:
We hold that actual innocence is not an element of a criminal malpractice cause of action. Requiring a criminal malpractice plaintiff to prove actual innocence is contrary to the fundamental principle that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Further, a criminal defendant can be harmed separately from the harm he or she incurs as a result of being guilty of a crime. . . .  Additionally, as a practical matter, requiring actual innocence would essentially eliminate a defense attorney’s duty to provide competent counsel to a client he or she knows to be guilty. For the foregoing reasons, we hold that actual innocence is not an element of a criminal malpractice cause of action.
This means that three of the last four jurisdictions to consider the issue have rejected the majority approach, which makes me wonder if what is the majority has now shifted.  I have not done a state by state survey recently, so I don't know for sure.  However, I have not read anyone make that claim yet, so I assume the majority approach is still to require a showing of actual innocence.  If someone has information about the actual count of how many states follow each approach, please let me know. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Illinois Supreme Court adopts 'proactive management-based regulation'

Yesterday, the Illinois Supreme Court announced rule amendments that make Illinois the first state to adopt so-called “proactive management based regulation” (PMBR), a system designed to prevent ethical missteps by requiring lawyers without malpractice insurance to review their operations. For the text of the changes, see Amended Rule 756(e).  The Illinois State Bar Association website has more detailed information about the program here.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Forthcoming law review article on the need to re think norms, duties and the notion of value in legal services

Readers of the blog might be interested in this forthcoming law review article: Restraining Lawyers: From 'Cases' to 'Tasks' by Morris Ratner from the University of California Hastings College of the Law, which will be published by the Fordham Law Review. Here is the abstract:
Developments in the domains of procedure and private contract highlight a continuing shift in authority away from lawyers and towards courts and clients accomplished by a conceptual downshift from “cases” to “tasks.” The 2015 amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure limit attorney and party discretion by further empowering the trial court judge to dissect, assess the value of, and sequence case activity, including discovery. At the same time, in the private sphere, sophisticated clients aided by advances in project and information management are controlling legal spend by unbundling cases into tasks. From that position, they can source projects to low-cost providers. Clients are also increasingly demanding litigation budgets and seeking value-based pricing, both of which work best if there is heightened communication between lawyer and client regarding the means to be pursued to achieve litigation aims. These regulatory and market restraints on lawyers and lawyer-driven adversarialism, while pointing in a similar direction, differ fundamentally in terms of their reach, efficacy, and fairness. Despite their differences, these developments in tandem have the potential to inspire the creation of new norms and duties calling on litigators to think more deeply and inclusively about the value of litigation tasks from the perspective of court and client.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

ABA Center for Innovation is now accepting applications for its fellowship program

The ABA Center for Innovation, about which I wrote not too long ago here, is accepting applications for its inaugural fellowship program.  As reported in the ABA Journal:  "Open to both newly minted lawyers and mid-career professionals outside the law, the program seeks applications and proposals to create or develop projects to improve the legal industry. Those who wish to apply should have an idea that bridges the access-to-justice gap in the U.S.; utilizes technology to deal with a vital legal need; designs or builds a more effective way of delivering legal services; provides the public with easier access to legal information; reduces the backlog of cases in various courts throughout the country; creates tools that allow lawyers to better represent their clients; or helps pro se litigants represent themselves more effectively. The deadline for applicants is Jan. 31."

"Innovation," as you may recall, was my pick for the hot topic of the year last year -- a claim I spoke about at the International Legal Ethics Conference in New York last summer.  But, as I discussed during that presentation, the concept is too broad and often used to mean different things.  For my posts on all topics somehow related to the issues raised by the concept of innovation, you can go here and scroll down.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Pennsylvania rejects ABA Rule 8.4(g) approach to regulation of discriminatory conduct and proposes new rule similar to the one in Illinois

Just a few minutes ago I posted an item on the much discussed newly adopted ABA Model Rule 8.4(g), and then I found this new bit of news:  Last month the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board proposed an amendment to the state's Rule 8.4 to address the issue of discriminatory conduct.  Interestingly, however, the proposal actually rejects the ABA Model Rule and proposes instead the approach currently in place in Illinois.  The proposal would amend the current rule to make it misconduct to "violate a federal, state or local statute or ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status by conduct that reflects adversely on the lawyer's fitness as a lawyer."  This is the same language that has been in Illinois Rule 8.4(j) since 2010.

Obviously, the Illinois approach is much narrower than the new ABA Rule, but it avoids the potential problem of imposing discipline for engaging in constitutionally protected speech. Under the ABA rule, the disciplinary agency itself makes the determination of whether the lawyer committed discriminatory conduct. Under the Pennsylvania proposal, that conduct must violate an applicable law, and if there is a forum to make the determination of whether the lawyer committed a violation, that process must take place first. 

Texas Attorney General thinks new anti-discrimination Model Rule is unconstitutional

The ABA recently approved an amendment to Model Rule 8.4 to make it misconduct to use discriminatory or biased speech.  Back in January I wrote a long comment on the original proposal, which was changed before it was approved.  The approved version addressed some of the issues I had originally objected to, but I still have reservations about the approved language because it seems to punish protected speech.  You can read my most recent comments on it herehere and here

Now comes news that the Texas attorney general has expressed the view that the rule is unconstitutional.  The rule has not yet been adopted in Texas.  The ABA Journal has more on the story here.