Legal Ethics Counsel – Making Sense of the Gray Areas
Every attorney knows that ethics rules, and strict compliance with all ethical guidelines, is a critical part of practicing law. Every attorney also knows how difficult it can be to interpret those rules in the context of compliance systems, daily practices, and real-world ethical dilemmas.
You need independent, confidential counsel to navigate the ethical gray areas, to analyze the issues and to get to the correct path forward. You need independent, confidential counsel to review and analyze your firm’s systems and practices to ensure compliance with the highest ethical standards. You need independent, confidential counsel to ensure that your ethical information—the most sensitive competitive information that you have – remains confidential.
That is where we come in.
What We Do
Legal Ethics Counsel to Resolve Ethical Issues
When an ethical issue arises in your practice – a potential conflict of interest, a potential breach of confidentiality, questions about the ethical boundaries of attorney marketing, to name a few – you need answers, correct answers, quickly.
Any lawyer who has researched an ethical issue will confirm that it is not difficult to find the ethics rules. But applying the rules, reaching the correct conclusion, and developing and executing the correct plan of action is extremely difficult if you are not well versed in the application of the rules.
Ethics hotlines by the state bar are helpful resources, but may not always be timely available, and answers may be more general than you need, or come with a lot of disclaimers or caveats that can leave you uncertain about how to proceed. Similarly, your malpractice carrier can be a helpful resource. But when facing an ethical question requiring a detailed and timely analysis, the resources from your carrier may be too general to provide specific guidance.
Consider some examples of ethical questions from practice that may keep you up at night, or should:
- When you represent a subsidiary corporation, do you also represent its parent company (or companies)?
- Your firm has attorneys licensed in more than one jurisdiction: should it comply with each jurisdiction’s attorney advertising requirements?
- New partner wants to join your firm, but has a client that may conflict with your client.
- How do you resolve the conflict?
- What is the scope of your duty to be competent to manage technology for things like e-discovery?
- How can you ethically outsource associate-level attorney work to non-firm attorneys?
- What do you do if you discover that confidential client information may have been compromised?
- Can you use attorneys not licensed in a jurisdiction for litigation in that jurisdiction?
- How can you ethically use litigation funding?
- You think your judge has an undisclosed conflict of interest: what should you do?
- Can you get your opponent’s counsel disqualified for a conflict?
- How can you ethically structure alternative fee agreements?
- How can you ethically market your practice?
- The list of questions goes on. Independent, confidential counsel will get you to the answers.
Legal Ethics Audits to Ensure Best Practices
The world for lawyers is evolving, rapidly, and so are the ethical challenges that lawyers and law firms face. Firms must have sound policies and procedures in place to address and manage ethical issues like client conflicts, confidentiality, technology, outsourcing, attorney marketing, and fee arrangements, to name a few. Even the best policies and procedures at any firm will be useless if they are not being followed, consistently.
It is not difficult to conjure a list of law firms that were destroyed by ethical lapses. Maintaining the highest ethical standards is an existential necessity of your practice. It is also good business.
But lawyers are busy people. Even the most carefully designed ethical safeguards can give way to the press of business. And law is a competitive business. The pressures to generate business can cloud judgment, and mask ethical red flags for interested parties. And law firms focus on practicing law. Reviewing firm-wide ethical issues is not always at the top of the task list.
Our Ethics Review is designed with these realities in mind. We review your firm systems and practices from an independent perspective, with the strictest confidentiality, and analyze them compared to best practices, to provide detailed answers to two fundamental questions:
- Does you firm have the right policies and procedures in place to ensure
compliance with the highest ethical standards?
- Are the policies and procedures being followed, consistently?
Our Ethics Review includes a review of each aspect of your practice, analyzing the policies and procedures in place and how they are implemented. We review management structures, compliance safeguards, and specific risk managements systems to ensure that your firm has the right plans in place, that they are properly communicated to the firm, and that they are properly implemented, consistently. We prepare a detailed analysis, identifying risks, and remedies, in each category.
Consider some examples of ethical questions from your law practice that may keep you up at night, or should:
- Does your firm’s website comply with applicable attorney advertising rules?
- Is your legal blog attorney advertising?
- Are your firm’s non-California attorneys authorized to practice law here?
- Does your virtual law office comply with California’s ethics rules?
- Does your firm use always use engagement letters to define the scope of representation?
- Does your firm have policies in place to protect electronic information?
- Does your firm have a protocol for responding to a breach of confidentiality?
- Is your partnership agreement up to date?
- Are partners in your firm properly incentivized to comply with ethics rules?
- Are your alternative fee arrangements ethical?
- Is your firm’s conflicts database sufficient to capture potential conflicts?
- Does your firm have suitable protocols in place for ethically vetting joining attorneys?
- Are your outsourcing policies compliant with California’s ethical rules?
- Does your practice advertising comply with California’s ethical rules?
- Does your firm has appropriate ethics training for attorneys and staff?
- Do your calendaring/timekeeping/document management/financial managementsoftware meet all ethical guidelines?
- Are you doing all you can to protect client confidentiality?
- What more can you do to protect your firm from an ethics breach?
- Does your firm handle partner departures ethically?
The list of questions goes on. Independent, confidential counsel will get you to the answers.
General Counsel to Lawyers and Law Firms
The best approach to compliance with legal ethics is a proactive, consistent approach. By the time you need ethics counsel, it may be too late to prevent ethical lapses. And breaches of legal ethics are eminently preventable, with the right counsel.
For this reason, many large professional services firms have a full-time, dedicated General Counsel, to monitor the firm’s compliance with applicable ethics rules and procedures, to respond to ethical issues as they arise, and to implement best practices in the firm’s policies for legal ethics issues.
Clients notice. For many clients, it is no longer enough to assume that their outside counsel is complying with critical ethical standards. Clients expect confirmation that outside counsel properly manages potential conflicts of interest, information security, electronic ethics, outsourcing, and other applicable rules. Increasingly, if you cannot affirmatively demonstrate that your firm complies with the highest ethical standards, and has sophisticated safeguards in place to ensure compliance with all applicable rules, you will be at a competitive disadvantage. Most clients will not even consider you for their work.
But you can turn ethical compliance into a competitive advantage. We bring the General Counsel capacity to your firm. As General Counsel to law firms, we advise our client firms on all aspects of legal ethics compliance, including ongoing counsel to proactively avoid legal ethics issues, to ensure appropriate policies and procedures are in place, to monitor compliance with those policies and procedures, and to respond quickly when an ethical issue arises.
As your law firm’s outside General Counsel, we identify and manage the ethical issues that arise in your practice, moving ethics compliance monitoring off your to-do list. The right independent Ethics Counsel, proactively and consistently evaluating, monitoring, and advising your firm on ethical issues, can turn ethics compliance from a potential hazard into a competitive advantage.
Analyzing the Complex Legal Ethics Issues You Face
Our California Legal Ethics Counsel practice is designed to give you or your firm the detailed analysis you need to resolve ethical issues, and the counsel necessary to do the right thing.
We address and analyze the ethical issues that arise in your practice, including:
- Attorney-client relationships
- Attorney marketing
- Client confidentiality
- Client solicitation
- Conflicts of interest
- Fee agreements and funding
- Fiduciary duties
- In-house ethics
- Judicial ethics
- Legal ethics reviews
- Professionalism and civility
- Representation ethics
- Technology ethics
- Unauthorized practice
- Virtual practice and outsourcing
Clear and Concise Guidance
Any ethical issue that you are facing must be resolved – correctly – so that you can continue to practice law in strict compliance with the rules. We draw on our years of experience, and on our specific experience analyzing complex ethical issues for lawyers and law firms, to provide detailed analysis and counsel on ethical issues. You need the rules and the guidelines, but also the context to make correct decisions, and a specific action plan to prevent, or to resolve, any ethical issues.