Future Law

California State Bar Approves Changes to Lawyer Conduct Rules

california state bar lawyer conduct rulesIn late 2016, we wrote about the possibility of the California State Bar adopting a ban on sexual relations between lawyers and clients. At that time, the State Bar’s Rules Commission had until March 2017 to get approval from its the trustees who would then pass the proposition on to the Court for adoption.

On March 30, 2017, the State Bar submitted its major overhaul proposal of ethics rules for California lawyers, including 70 new or amended Rules of Professional Conduct, to the California Supreme Court. This comes after the Commission for the Revision of the Rules of Professional Conduct work on the proposal and the Board of Trustees adopted proposed the new and amended Rules of Professional Conduct at its November 17, 2016 and March 9, 2017 meetings.

The 70-rule package includes an array of amendments that meld the ABA Model Rules and current California statutes. In fact, the California State Bar’s proposed rules generally align with the numbering system put in place by the American Bar Association.

According to the Board of Trustee proposal, the proposed rule changes impact the following areas of attorney conduct in California:

  1. changes that enhance competence or promote lawyer-client communication;
  2. changes that strengthen a lawyer’s responsibilities as a fiduciary, including responsibilities involving fee arrangements;
  3. changes that respond to access to justice needs and public interest practice concerns;
  4. changes that target specific key areas of lawyer conduct;
  5. changes that account for lawyer use of technology, in particular electronic communication; and
  6. changes that recommend the retention of existing California policies for which there are no direct counterparts in the ABA Model Rules.

Some of the highlights include the implementation of new rules and rule amendments regarding representation conflicts, lawyer-client sexual relations, advertising, harassment, supervision within law firms, choice-of-law, clients with diminished capacity, and communicating with unrepresented persons. The complete proposal and amended changes can be found here.

Keep in mind that none of these proposals can go into effect until the California Supreme Court approves the recommendations of the California State Bar.

At this time, there is no timetable for the Court to act on this proposal. In fact, they can choose to not act on the California State Bar’s proposals altogether.

If the California Supreme Court decides to adopt this or any aspect of the proposal, California will fall more in line with the national standard of lawyer regulation here in the United States, and as proponents of the proposal believe, it will be good for business with all of California’s out-of-state practicing attorneys and the encouragement of multijurisdictional practice.

However, only time will tell if the California Supreme Court will take the next step. As more developments unfold, the Commission on Professionalism will keep its readers in the know.

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