A few days ago, the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility published Formal Opinion 501 in which it reminds us that not only must attorneys refrain from engaging in improper direct solicitation of potential clients, they also have an ethical duty to ensure that their employees do not engage in such misconduct. You can read the full opinion here. The summary is as follows:
ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 7.3(a), amended in 2018, contains a narrowed definition of what constitutes a “solicitation.” Rule 7.3(b) delineates the type of solicitation that is expressly prohibited. Rules 8.4(a) and 5.3 extend a lawyer’s responsibility for solicitation prohibitions not only to actions carried out by the lawyer directly but also to the acts of persons employed by, retained by, or associated with the lawyer under certain circumstances.
Rule 5.3(b) requires lawyer supervisors to make reasonable efforts to ensure that all persons employed, retained, or associated with the lawyer are trained to comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct, including Rule 7.3(b)’s prohibition. Partners and lawyers possessing comparable managerial authority in a law firm must make reasonable efforts to ensure that the firm has training that reasonably assures that non lawyer employees’ conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of lawyers. Under Rule 5.3(c), a lawyer will be responsible for the conduct of another if the lawyer orders or with specific knowledge of the conduct ratifies it, or if the lawyer is a manager or supervisor and knows of the conduct at a time when its consequences can be avoided or mitigated but fails to take reasonable remedial action.
Rule 8.4(a) makes it professional misconduct for a lawyer to “knowingly assist or induce another, to violate the Rules or knowingly do so through the acts of another. Failing to train a person employed, retained, or associated with the lawyer on Rule 7.3’s restrictions may violate Rules5.3(a), 5.3(b), and 8.4(a).
Many legal consumers obtain information about lawyers from acquaintances and other professionals. The Model Rules of Professional Conduct are rules of reason. Recommendations or referrals by third parties who are not employed, retained, or similarly associated with the lawyer and whose communications are not directed to make specific statements to particular potential clients on behalf of a lawyer do not generally constitute “solicitation” under Rule 7.3.
Ethical Grounds has a comment on the opinion here. The ABA Journal has a comment here.