The Law for Lawyers Today

Ethics, Professional Responsibility and More

A federal district court refused last week to disqualify a Connecticut lawyer in a suit against Yale University, even though finding a violation of the state’s version of Model Rule 4.2, the “no contact rule.”  Although ruling that disqualification was too extreme a sanction, the court ordered the turnover of interview notes from the lawyer’s interview of the improperly-contacted witness. The case underscores the need to tread carefully when contacting anyone associated with the opposing party. Coin…
You probably know about the ethics rule that prohibits lawyers from trying to prospectively limit their liability to clients (or at least I hope you do!).  You can find it in your state’s version of Model Rule 1.8(h). In an interesting twist, the Utah Ethics Advisory Committee recently opined that it’s permissible to include a provision in a retainer agreement requiring the client to indemnify the lawyer against third party claims against the lawyer arising…
Advising a “client” on how to move “grey money” into the U.S. has resulted in an agreed public censure in September for a New York attorney.  The lawyer (along with a number of others) was caught on video by Global Witness, a British-based public advocacy group.  But the sanction raises some questions regarding the imposition of discipline for conduct based on a pretextual situation. The “client” was actually an undercover investigator who posed as a…
Some answers are so obvious that you are left wondering why the question needed to be asked in the first place. Like “should a client pay a fee it agreed to in advance?”  Or, “should an attorney try his or her best to prevail?” And now this:  the ABA’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility issued an advisory opinion earlier this month instructing lawyers who suffer a data breach that exposes “material client information”…
Picture this:   You’re travelling across U.S. borders, heading home from a client meeting abroad.  However, unlike other trips, this time a Customs and Border Protection agent requests that you unlock and hand over for inspection your computer and cell phone — full of client confidential information.  You’ve been concerned about this issue, and so you’ve had your IT department encrypt all of the sensitive data on your devices.  Will that protect you client’s information from…
In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, which last month dumped up to 35 inches of rain on parts of the Carolinas, Virginia and Maryland, caused 48 deaths, and up to $22 billion in property damage, comes a timely new ABA opinion about our ethical obligations related to disasters. The hurricane did not spare lawyers and law firms.  Ahead of the 1,000-year storm, Law360.com reported that firms in Florence’s projected path shuttered offices, activated contingency plans,…
You can’t interview potential expert witnesses and share confidential information with them solely to taint them with a conflict that would prevent the experts from working for the other side, the Texas State Bar Professional Ethics Committee recently said in Opinion No. 676. “T’aint” ethical Lots of litigation requires expert testimony in order to support plaintiff’s allegations or to defend against them.  But if a lawyer shares confidential information with a prospective expert, the expert may be disqualified from working for the other…
Making big news this summer was the shut-down of Avvo Legal Services just a few months after it was acquired by Internet Brands.  (A couple of the many reports are here and here.)  Some speculated that the new corporate owner had no stomach to continue to fight for that portion of Avvo’s business model in the face of numerous state ethics opinions that found a wide variety of ethics problems with it. The flat-fee…
The New York City Bar Association recently found that common forms of third-party litigation funding for law firms violate New York’s Rule 5.4(a), which like the analogous Model Rule, bars fee-splitting with non-lawyers. In its Opinion 2018-5, the NYCBA’s Professional Ethics Committee advised that “a lawyer may not enter into a financing agreement with a litigation funder, a non-lawyer, under which the lawyer’s future payments to the funder are contingent on the lawyer’s…
In the movie “Goodfellas,” Robert De Niro famously advises that the two greatest life lessons are “Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut.”  Those are good rules if you’re in a crime syndicate.  But as most lawyers know, our Rules of Professional Conduct can actually require us to “rat out” our fellow lawyers, under some limited circumstances.  Model Rule 8.3(a), adopted in some version in almost all jurisdictions, says: “A…