Menu

Showing 34 posts in Legal Ethics.

Advising Clients Regarding Criminal Conduct -- Medical or Recreational Marijuana Industry

Rhode Island Ethics Advisory Panel Op. 2017-01

Risk Management Issue:  In a state that has legalized marijuana in contravention of the federal Controlled Substances Act, what are a lawyer's obligations when advising a client in the marijuana industry?

The Opinion:  The federal prohibition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act creates thorny ethical issues for attorneys representing clients in the cannabis industry in the twenty-nine states that have legalized medical marijuana and the eight states that have legalized recreational marijuana.  The Rhode Island Ethics Advisory Panel recently joined a chorus of other states in concluding that attorneys may ethically advise clients on all matters related to a particular state's medical marijuana law, as long as attorneys also advise clients regarding the federal law. More ›

In-Firm Privilege: Lawyers Have Legal Problems Too

For many years in the modern era of law firms, a few federal district court decisions starting in the 1980s set forth the notion that lawyers and law firms could not invoke the attorney-client privilege to shelter communications with their lawyers about their legal problems from the lawyers’ clients. Since that time, law firms have grown tremendously in size, scope, and complexity, making such an approach a thorn in the side of law firms’ in-house counsel.

Fortunately, since 2011, there has been an unbroken string of well-reasoned opinions deciding that the cases holding against the in-firm privilege were in fact mistaken. The supreme courts of Massachusetts, Georgia, Oregon, California, and New York have now upheld the rights of lawyers to get privileged legal advice, as have intermediate appellate courts or federal district courts in Illinois, Ohio, and California. More ›

Online Attorney Referral Networks and Sharing Fees with a Non-Lawyer

It seems everything is moving online these days, including legal services. In a time when more people are apt to send an email or a text than pick up the phone, when people increasingly shop, bank, and even date online, it seems only natural that more people would want to go to the Internet for easy, efficient legal services. Enter the multitude of startup online attorney referral networks, offering a range of features from marketing to communications, document processing, and full-service billing and payment, for a small fee, of course. As tempting as these services may be for lawyers looking to boost their books of businesses, they should be aware that bar regulators may have a few objections. In only the last few months, ethics committees in Ohio, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania have issued opinions regarding the fee structures offered by online attorney referral networks. Although these opinions also considered several other ethics issues implicated by attorney participation in these networks, the common conclusion they share is that attorneys participating in some of these networks may risk running afoul of the Rules of Professional Conduct prohibiting sharing of legal fees with a non-attorney.  More ›

A Fool For a Client?

If you think you can fix that mistake, think again. As lawyers, taking matters into our own hands is dangerous and ill-advised. More ›

Have Your Clients Had Their Legal Checkup?

In August 2014, the ABA's Commission on the Future of Legal Services set out to improve the delivery of, and access to, legal services in the United States. (Report on the Future of Legal Service in the United States, p.4)    More ›

Supreme Court Rules that Pennsylvania Justice's Previous Involvement in Case Represented an Impermissible Risk of Bias

In a recent opinion, Williams v. Pennsylvania, --- S.Ct. ----,  2016 WL 3189529 (June 9, 2016), a divided United States Supreme Court held that judges must recuse themselves in cases in which they previously played a significant role in prosecuting the person appearing before them.  More ›

Practicing Without a Net: Protecting your Firm by Agreement

Attorneys come to us when contemplating the creation or expansion of their firms, when they want to leave their firm, or are dealing with the fallout of another member leaving. While many law firms have taken advantage of the protections of a limited liability entity, attorneys are not always aware of the risks involved when the members of the firm do not enter into an agreement or enter into an incomplete or “boiler plate” agreement in forming those entities, risks that sadly only come to light when embroiled in a dispute between the members More ›

Be Careful how, and with whom, you Associate

Attorney associations are valuable means to reduce overhead and expenses, and provide support for sole practitioners. However, casually creating an association can give rise to issues, including increased exposure to vicarious liability and State Bar probes. More ›

ABA Clarifies Referral fees Between Lawyers in Formal Ethics Opinion 474

On April 21, 2016, the American Bar Association ("ABA") Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility released Formal Opinion 474, addressing referral fees under Model Rule 1.5(e) and the impact of conflicts of interest under Model Rule 1.7. The opinion makes clear that pursuant to Model Rule 1.5(e)(1) a lawyer may only receive a fee from referring a case to another lawyer not in the same firm if the referring attorney performs legal services for the client on that referred matter or assumes joint responsibility for the representation. Rule 1.5(e)(2-3) further mandates that the client must agree to such fee arrangement in writing, including the share each lawyer will receive, and that the total fee must be reasonable. More ›

Trees Grow Back — Paper your File

Papering your file (or PDFing an electronic file) is an important, if underappreciated, method to protect both you and your clients. Regular memos to a file will help cut down time necessary to analyze a new development in your case, ensure a colleague can take over a file if something happens to you, and could protect you against a malpractice claim in the future.  More ›