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After nine years of debate, the State Bar adopted 67 proposed ethics rules to govern California lawyers’ professional conduct. The rules require Supreme Court approval before taking effect, and although the court is free to reject or return any of the proposals for further work, they offer a behavioral roadmap for attorneys and provide clear guidance in particular areas that have been confusing or controversial, and result in discipline for those who ignore them.

Although a rules revision commission was appointed to bring California’s rules in line with the ABA Model Rules, the state — in fact the only state whose rules are not patterned after the Model Rules — will continue to differ in 12 key areas, four involving fees. The rules were last revised in 1987, and since beginning its work, the commission has held seven public hearings, sought public response to its recommendations six times and received 530 written comments. Even as the final deadline loomed last month, the group sent out seven final rules for one last round of public input.

The rules can be divided into two categories: those that were changed to mirror more closely the ABA Model Rules, and those that remain distinctly Californian.

The first category includes rules that address lawyer advertising/solicitation; supervision of lawyer and nonlawyer subordinates; sexual relations with clients; aggregate settlements; limited legal service programs; trial publicity; and dealings with represented and unrepresented persons.

The areas that are substantially different from the Model Rules include the bar’s rejection of the so-called “snitch” rule and retention of California standards governing client secrets, unconscionable fees, competence and moral turpitude.  To read the breakdown of these differences, see them at the California Bar Journal article.

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