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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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At its July 22 – 24, 2010 meeting, the Board of Governors considered a Commission request that the Board adopt all of the Commission’s proposed new and amended rules. Board consideration of this request followed the conclusion of a comprehensive public comment distribution of all of the Commission’s proposed rules that ended on June 15, 2010.   The Commission requested Board adoption of sixty-eight proposed rules.  Of these sixty-eight proposed rules, sixty were adopted and one proposed rule, Rule 8.3 (re reporting misconduct), was not adopted.  For the remaining seven rules, the Board authorized an additional 30-day public comment period to seek input on changes made to those rules after the comment period that ended on June 15, 2010.  The comments are due on August 23, 2010.  You can see the seven rules for review and how to comment here.

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On March 11, 2010, the California State Bar will hold a hearing asking the public for their comments on revisions to a few of the Professional Rules of Conduct. The Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar of California are attorney conduct rules, the violation of which will subject an attorney to discipline. Pursuant to statute, rule amendment proposals may be formulated by the State Bar for submission to the Supreme Court of California for approval. The State Bar has assigned a special commission to conduct a thorough study of the rules and to recommend comprehensive amendments. If you are interested in speaking, or know someone who is, they can click here to complete the application to speak at the hearing. You must submit your request by March 8, 2010 to be considered for speaking at the hearing.

The following 12 rules or issues are being reviewed.

Rule Title
Rule 1.0.1 Terminology [1-100]
Rule 1.4.1 Insurance Disclosure [3-410]
Rule 1.11 Special Conflicts for Government Employees [N/A]
Rule 1.17 Sale of a Law Practice [2-300]
Rule 1.18 Duties to Prospective Client [N/A]
Rule 3.9 Non-adjudicative Proceedings [N/A]
Rule 4.1 Truthfulness in Statements to Others [N/A]
Rule 4.4 Respect for Rights of 3rd Persons [N/A]
Rule 6.1 Voluntary Pro Bono Service [N/A]
Rule 6.2 Accepting Appointments [N/A]
Rule 6.5 Limited Legal Services Programs [1-650]
Rule 8.2 Judicial and Legal Officials [1-700]

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