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Interrogatories: Direction for ethics queries

You know business ethics is a whole different ball of wax for attorneys, who are bound by specific jurisdictional rules. Since the restrictions described in those ethics rules, especially on the margins, are not often black and white, lawyers and law firms tend to have lots of fact-specific questions. I know this, in part, because, at LOMAP, we get a lot of calls related to attorneys' ethics.

So, where's the best place to go for information? Well, you won't do much better for authority than the Board of Bar Overseers/Office of Bar Counsel. Therefore, you should know how to access what the BBO/OBC has to offer. Your first stop should be the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct and comments, which are linked from the BBO/OBC's website. From there, there are further points of clarification made, including an updates/highlights tab, a helpful 'Frequently Asked Questions' section, free trust account trainings and an ethics articles repository, covering a range of subjects, which articles can be sorted by topic or rule. If you're still stuck, the BBO/OBC hosts an ethics hotline, which is accessible between the hours of 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at (617) 728-8750. The ethics hotline is confidential, but the advice given is not binding on the BBO/OBC -- nevertheless, it is useful to speak with the attorneys of the BBO/OBC, especially as their main focus is to apply the ethics rules to Massachusetts lawyers. Words from the horse's mouth do not get more equine than that.

While many attorneys view the BBO/OBC with some level of dread, as the engine for disbarments, suspensions, and other forms of discipline, often lost in that perception is the role that the BBO/OBC plays in preventing malpractice/ethics violations before they're committed. And, isn't it better to find out ahead of time if you might be skating on thin ice, rather than after the fact, potentially through an ethics inquiry?

The Massachusetts Bar Association also offers ethical guidance to the bar via its Committee on Professional Ethics, which recently released an opinion on the use of 'cloud' tools by lawyers.

Tip courtesy of Jared Correia, Law Office Management Assistance Program.

Published October 18, 2012

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