Updates on Leaving a Firm, Tech Competence, and Regulatory Reform.

Today’s post updates/revisits topics I’ve previously discussed:

  • duties to clients when a lawyer leaves a firm.
  • Tech competence: it’s been 16 years (!) since Zubulake.
  • Arizona adopts significant regulatory reform.

Duties to Clients when a Lawyer Leaves a Firm

In September, I posted Leaving A Law Firm: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.  The post highlights the duties that a departing lawyer and firm owe to clients. It’s based (mostly) on a formal advisory opinion that the ABA issued in 1999.

Then, in December, I posted this update after the ABA Standing Committee On Ethics And Professional Responsibility issued Formal Opinion 489: Obligations Related to Notice When Lawyers Change Firms. 

Update: Last month, the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct issued Formal Opinion 2020-06: Lawyer Departing a Law Firm.  The opinion tracks the most recent ABA opinion.  Summary:

  1. When a lawyer with “principal responsibility” for a client matter departs a firm, the lawyer is required to communicate the impending departure.
  2. Preferably, notice should come from both the firm and the departing lawyer.
  3. The departing lawyer should not notify clients of the impending departure before notifying the firm.
  4. Neither the departing lawyer nor the firm should state or imply that the client is the firm’s or the lawyer’s or take any action that interferes with the client’s right to choose counsel (including a new firm altogether).  Client choice remains paramount!
  5. Given the prior professional relationship, both the departing lawyer and firm may indicate a willingness to continue to represent the client.
  6. If no remaining lawyers can provide competent representation to the client, or if a conflict at the new firm prohibits the client from following the departing lawyer, the firm and lawyer must work to assist the client to find new counsel.

Thank you Professor Bernabe for the tip.

Tech Competence: it’s been 16 years (!) since Zubulake

The blog was founded on the slogan “Competence Includes Tech Competence.”  In January, and following a CLE in which I was fortunate to present with a group of highly competent litigators, I posted Competence & E-Discovery. I think it’s an okay refresher.

Last week, I fell down a rabbit hole of old articles on legal ethics and found an ABA Journal post from 2014: Looking back on Zubulake, 10 years later.  To me, it’s an interesting and informative review of the landmark decision, a decision that, really, thrust “tech competence” into the parlance.

Arizona Adopts Regulatory Reform

Last week, I blogged about the Utah Supreme Court’s decision to adopt significant changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct and the manner in which the provision of legal services is regulated. In short, acknowledging that the rules can serve as a barrier to accessing affordable legal services, the Utah Court issued Standing Order 15 which:

  • allows lawyers to share fees with non-lawyers;
  • allows lawyers to practice in entities that are owned or managed by non-lawyers; and,
  • repeals the rule that prohibits sharing fees with lawyers in other firms.

Update: The day after my post, the Arizona Supreme Court adopted similar reform  Per this press release, the “goal is to improve access to justice and to encourage innovation in the delivery of legal services. The work of the task force adopted by the Court will make it possible for more people to access affordable legal services and for more individuals and families to get legal advice and help. These new rules will promote business innovation in providing legal services at affordable prices.”  The changes:

  • create a process to license paraprofessionals who will be authorized to provide limited legal services in certain types of cases, including going to court with clients;
  • repeal the rule that prohibits fee sharing with a lawyer in another firm; and,
  • repeal the rule that prohibits non-lawyers from having ownership interests in law firms.

Legal Ethics

Maine, Utah, and Reforming Attorney Regulation.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that I visited Maine last weekend.

There’s not much I enjoy more than an early morning run followed by a dip in the ocean. In Maine, I was able to do exactly that each morning. In the surf, I’m like my 9-year old self: my attention focused on the horizon, looking for giant ships and the next big breaker to ride to shore.

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What’s that got to do with reforming attorney regulation?

Reform is no longer on the horizon. It’s approaching shore. Whatever the metaphor, I hope that we get on board or ride the wave.

Proponents of regulatory reform argue that the Rules of Professional Conduct impede access to legal services. Three ideas are central to reforming attorney regulation:

  • allowing non-lawyers to provide services that, now, only lawyers are authorized to provide;
  • relaxing the rule that prohibits (a) non-lawyer investment in law firms; (b) sharing profits with non-lawyers; and (c) partnering with non-lawyers; and,
  • relaxing the rule that prohibits lawyers from providing something of value in exchange for referrals.

For an overview of reforming attorney regulation – aka “re-regulation” —  this post from 2Civility is helpful.

Okay Mike, so where’s Utah figure into all of this?

Both on this blog and at CLEs, I’ve expressed frustration with the pace at which the legal profession adapts to change. One of the most-read posts on this blog is this one in which I argued that when it comes to increasing access by authorizing paralegals to provide legal services, we can’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

Which is why I was so excited to learn that last week, the Utah Supreme Court issued Standing Order 15. The order transforms regulatory reform from “talk” to “walk.”

Today, I’m not going to dive into the weeds of the “regulatory sandbox” that the order creates. Rather, I’m going to highlight (1) the changes it makes to the Rules of Professional Conduct; and (2) the reasons that the Utah Supreme Court approved it.

Standing Order 15:

  • allows lawyers to share fees with non-lawyers;
  • allows lawyers to practice in entities that are owned or managed by non-lawyers; and,
  • repeals the rule that prohibits sharing fees with lawyers in other firms.

In addition, but a topic for another day, Standing Order 15 significantly streamlines the lawyer advertising rules.  

Why adopt such significant changes?  Here’s the press release in which the Court announced that it had adopted the order.  It includes the following paragraph:

  • “Justice Deno Himonas who, along with John Lund, past-President of the Utah Bar, led the effort, summed up the need for innovative solutions in the face of America’s access-to-justice crisis as follows, ‘We cannot volunteer ourselves across the access-to-justice gap. We have spent billions of dollars trying this approach. It hasn’t worked. And hammering away at the problem with the same tools is Einstein’s very definition of insanity. What is needed is a market-based approach that simultaneously respects and protects consumer needs. That is the power and beauty of the Supreme Court’s rule changes and the legal regulatory sandbox.’ Now, under the leadership of the Supreme Court and the Bar Commission, which will have an important role in the Innovation Office, Utah will be the first state in the nation to lay the foundation for a truly accessible and affordable, consumer-oriented legal services system.”

This morning, Justice Himonas and John Lund agreed to meet with me virtually to record an interview that will focus on Standing Order 15, Utah’s new regulatory sandbox, and regulatory reform in general.  I will post it as soon as it’s finished.

This is not the last I’ll broach this topic.  Since June, Justice Cohen and I have been participating in a series of seminars put on by the IAALS Unlocking Legal Regulation Project. We’re learning about the very changes that Utah adopted.  By the end of the year, we anticipate being ready to start a more in-depth discussion here in Vermont. 

Stay tuned.

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Additional Information on Utah Standing Order 15

Related Posts from this blog

Hot Topics in Legal Ethics

I’m in Chicago at the Annual Meeting of the National Organization of Bar Counsel.

First things first: no, Cook County is not one of Vermont’s 14 counties.  However, very early this morning, I knocked out 11.5 miles in Cook County.  I ran a beautiful route from my hotel to Wrigley Field and back.  Most of the route was on the Lakeshore Trail along Lake Michigan. One lap around Wrigley made me feel very, very guilty . . . the setting is much nicer than Fenway.

Anyhow, back to business. One of tomorrow’s seminars is “Hot Cases in Ethics Opinions.” The material is posted online (NOBC membership required, so I’m not linking to it.)  Anyhow, from the material, it looks like the seminar will address 6 advisory opinions. The first 4 are:

  • Nebraska Ethics Advisory Opinion for Lawyers 17-03 (Cryptocurrency)
  • ABA Formal Opinion 477 (Securing Communication of Protected Client Information)
  • Illinois State Bar Professional Conduct Advisory Opinion 18-01 (Web Bugs)
  • ABA Formal Opinion 479 (The “generally known” exception to Rule 1.6)

Guess what? If you’re a regular reader of this blog, it’s like you’ve already attended tomorrow’s seminar!  That’s right, I’ve written about each of the first 4 advisory opinions!

So, what about the two others?

#5 in the material is a recent report from the Attorney Registration and Discipline Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois. In the report, the ARDC seeks comment on its recommendation that Illinois relax its rules against attorney participation in for-profit referral services.  Robert Ambrogi blogged about the report for Above the Law.

I’ve not yet followed suit.  Why? Well, the report is 124 pages long.  Further, about a month after the ARDC issued the report, the company that recently acquired Avvo announced that it would discontinue Avvo Legal Services.  The ABA Journal reported on the announcement here.

I’ve yet to fully flesh out a blog that will cover both the ARDC report and the news that Avvo’s fixed-fee legal services plan has been discontinued. That being said: I’ve blogged a topic related to each: Fixed-Fee Legal Services: A Conversation Starter

Finally, #6 in the material is ABA Formal Opinion 472: Communication with Person Receiving Limited-Scope Legal Services. I’ve not yet blogged on the opinion. But I’ve discussed it at many seminars!  Also, the material suggests that discussion of the opinion will include a discussion the ethics of ghostwriting. As you know, I ain’t afraid of no ghost! I’ve tackled the topic a few times, most recently in Ghostwriting as Access.

Want to know what’s hot in legal ethics? Follow this blog!!

Ethics

 

 

Monday Morning Answers – My Cousin Vinny

You’ve spoken.  My Cousin Vinny is not only your favorite movie, it’s the most popular topic upon which I’ve ever blogged.

And if there’s one thing my readers know, it’s magic grits.

Friday’s questions are here.  Spoiler alert: the answers appear below today’s Honor Roll. However, before I get to the Honor Roll & answers, I’m trying something new that I hope turns into its own column.

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you know that last night I posted this link to all my posts on the topic of Lawyers Helping Lawyers.  I posted at 5:30 PM in reaction to my realization that “whoa! it’s pitch dark and it’s only 5:30.”

Winter is long.  Darkness can be tough.  And, as the numbers show, we’re a profession that struggles to cope with stress, anxiety, substance abuse and mental health issues.  We must promote wellness and work-life balance, and we must encourage lawyers to make time for what matters.  In other words, let’s focus on ensuring that light shines in our personal & professional lives.

One way to let the light in is to do things that have nothing to do with the law. For example, yesterday, I ran a race with my mom.  She ran the 5K, I did the half marathon. One of us won her age division, I did not.  Here’s us post-race, pre-brunch.

IMG_2933

As we enter the months where the days arehort, it’s as important as ever to keep light in our lives.  To encourage that, send me your pictures of you doing something non-lawyerly.  It doesn’t have to be running a race.  It could skiing, playing with your kids or grandkids, reading, posing outside a show you’re about to attend.  If this catches on, each week, I’ll post the pictures, highlighting lawyers who, every now & then, go lawyerly-lite to keep the light on.

Honor Roll

Answers

Question 1

The rules include a special rule on conflicts for a certain type of lawyers.  What type?

Former & Current Government Officers & Employees.  Rule 1.11

Question 2

Pick the exact word or phrase that most accurately fills in the blank.

For the purposes of the confidentiality provisions of Rules 1.6 and 1.9(c), information that is a matter of public record is not necessarily __________:

  • A.   “Waived”
  • B.   “Privileged”
  • C.    “Confidential”
  • D.    “Generally known.”

Demonstrating my lack of competence, the original version of the quiz had two correct answers:  A – disclosable, and D – generally known.  Once I caught it, I edited the blog, but not before some people had answered and, anyway, it doesn’t edit the email that goes to people who have signed-up to follow the blog.

In the revised version, the answer is “generally known.”  See generally, Rule 1.9(c)(1).  I will blog on this issue later this week.

Question 3

Attorney called with an inquiry.  I listened, then responded “the rule doesn’t say ‘solely to obtain an advantage.’ It says ‘to obtain an advantage.’  We dropped ‘solely‘ back in 1999.”

What did Attorney call to discuss?

  • A.  Contacting an opposing party’s expert witness
  • B.  Contacting a prospective juror
  • C.  Threatening criminal charges in a civil matter.  See, Rule 4.5
  • D.  Interviewing an employee of a represented organization, without the permission of the organization’s lawyer

Question 4

Lawyer called me with an inquiry. I listened, then responded “Well, given the traditional limitation on permitting a non-lawyer to direct a lawyer’s judgment, if any the activities  will include the practice of law, you can’t do it.”

What did Lawyer call to discuss?

  • A.  Forming a partnership with a non-lawyer. See, Rule 5.4(b)
  • B.  Someone other than a client paying for Lawyer to represent that client
  • C.  Sharing a referral fee with an attorney in a different firm
  • D.  Implementing a cloud-based practice management system

Question 5

In the trial in My Cousin Vinny, one of the key moments is Vinny’s cross-examination of an eye-witness.  The witness testified that Vinny’s clients must have been in the Sac-O-Suds (the convenience store where the murder took place) for 5 minutes. On cross, Vinny asked:

“Well, I guess the laws of physics cease to exist on top of your stove. Were these ___________________? Did you buy them from the same guy who sold Jack his beanstalk beans?”

Fill in the blank. Hint: it’s 2 words

Magic Grits.   The scene is here and is worth re-watching.  It’s a fantastically competent cross-examination of an eye-witness. And it’s funny.  #lawyerlight 

Vinny

 

PRP Looks at Nonlawyer Ownership

The Professional Responsibility Program (PRP) held its Annual Meeting on May 31, 2017.  The meeting took place at Burlington’s Hotel Vermont.  Chief Justice Paul Reiber joined the Board, members of the PRP’s hearing & assistance panels, PRP staff, and several invited guests for a day of seminars and discussion.

The morning’s second seminar focused on whether to amend Rule 5.4 to allow lawyers   to practice in firms in which nonlawyers hold ownership interests or managerial roles.

Vermont Law School’s Oliver Goodenough provided a fascinating talk on law & technology.  Among other things, Professor Goodenough expanded on ideas he originally shared in blogs he authored for the Huffington Post: Innovation in Legal Practice: Beyond the Current Model of Professionalism, and, Legal Technology 3.0.

Changing Rule 5.4 to allow Alternative Business Structures has long intrigued me. My first post on the topic is here: Is it Time for Nonlawyer Ownership? An Introduction to ABS.

Professor Goodenough’s engaging & instructive talk opened many more eyes to the potential benefits of ABS.  I anticipate that the Board will study nonlawyer ownership.  I will continue to raise the issue, as well as the idea of entity regulation.

Professor Goodenough – thank you so much for sharing your time, thoughts, and expertise with the members of the PRP!