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The future of legal ethics

On July 11, 2013, the Supreme Judicial Court's Standing Advisory Committee on the Rules of Professional Conduct published for public comment its proposed revisions to those rules.

This is important. The committee has suggested extensive revision to the rules (the most sweeping since the adoption of the majority of the current rule set in 1998) based on changes to the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct wrought by the ABA's Ethics 2000 Commission and Commission on Ethics 20/20. Coupled with recent, extensive changes to the rules respecting fees and fee agreements (see here and here), it's clear that attorneys should be prepared for the imposition of a substantially revised code of ethics, in the near term.

If you've got a free weekend, there are more than 400 pages of documents respecting the proposal at the Advisory Committee's notification page, including a committee report (featuring a summary of the proposed changes and majority and dissenting opinions to same), redlined local rules and redlined ABA rules.

If you're not interested in reading all of that, I've read (some of) it for you. These are some interesting features of the omnibus proposal:

A requirement that lawyers build and maintain a technology competence may be in the offing. (Rule 1.1)

There may be further definition respecting limited scope representation. (Rule 1.2)

Confidentiality rules could be extensively revised as respects disclosure obligations, and with an eye to updates necessitated by technological advances. (Rule 1.6)

The conflict of interest rules would be revised, including for the addition of a writing requirement for informed consent to a conflict waiver. (Rule 1.7, et seq.)

Explanation respecting flat fees would be added. (Rule 1.15)

The advertising rules would be further grounded in technology, the two-year maintenance rule would be jettisoned and lawyers would be able to advertise bare practice areas without being held to a higher standard of practice. (Rule 7.1, et seq.)

What do you think? Have anything to say? The comment period on the proposed rule changes will remain open until December 2, 2013. You can find information on how to comment here.

This is a unique opportunity for lawyers to provide their input respecting the ethics rules that will govern them. If you have something to say, now would be the time to say it.

After comments are received and processed, the committee will submit its finalized proposal to the Supreme Judicial Court.

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

Published October 3, 2013

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