Risk Update

Lawyer Conflicts Complexities — More Verein Pain, Ethical Wall Declarations, Lawyer Staff Sharing Ethics Rules,

Dentons Loses $32 Million Challenge to Swiss Law Firm Model” —

  • “Dentons lost its latest bid to overturn a $32.3 million legal malpractice award it must pay a former client.”
  • “The Ohio Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday could have implications for the Swiss verein law firm ownership model used by Dentons and other major firms. Swiss verien firms market services from loosely affiliated legal operations under a single brand.”
  • “The ruling treats affiliated firms as the same entity for conflict-of-interest purposes. That means firms will have to drop clients or sit out matters if there is a conflict based on work that affiliates are doing for other clients.”
  • “The high court declined to reconsider the award for RevoLaze Inc., a former Dentons client. A state court ruled that Dentons had a conflict of interest when it represented RevoLaze because a Dentons affiliate in Canada represented Gap Inc., which RevoLaze had sued for patent infringement.”
  • “At least six major US law firms have adopted the Swiss verein model, including DLA Piper, Squire Patton Boggs, Baker McKenzie, Norton Rose Fulbright and Littler Mendelson.”
  • “Dentons global chairman Joe Andrew said in July interview that the firm isn’t considering changing its ownership model, which has allowed for rapid growth. He also suggested that the firm could try to take its case to federal court.”
  • “Swiss verein firms are not likely to overhaul their business structures as a result of the decision, according to Cassandra Burke Robertson, director of the center for professional ethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, ‘The potential risk of liability for conflict of interest can be managed separately, either by seeking client consent to waive potential conflicts or to limit the clients that are accepted by the firm,’ she said via email.”
  • “The case may, however, serve as a ‘cautionary note,’ Robertson said. The ruling encourages firms to conduct careful conflicts reviews before accepting a new client, she said, and to make a full disclosure to clients in the event that a conflict arises after representation has begun. “

Brooke Jenkins Swears She Did Not Violate Ethics in Case Involving Family Member’s Killing” —

  • “San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins swore under oath that she did not violate any ethical rules in a murder case where the victim was a member of her family, a filing obtained by The Standard shows.”
  • “The case—one of two in which Jenkins has a conflict of interest—involves the alleged killers of 18-year-old Jerome Mallory, her husband’s cousin.”
  • “‘I have never breached the ethical wall in this case,’ Jenkins said in a sworn declaration filed in the case. ‘I have never accessed any district attorney files, papers or electronic, or investigative files, and did not direct the investigation of this case in any way or attempt to influence the production of this case.'”
  • “…Attorney General Rob Bonta has weighed in, arguing that the existing ethical walls—systems in place that limit Jenkins’ personal interactions with the case—erected before and after Jenkins took office, are sufficient for fair trials.”
  • “Now, defense attorneys have filed a recusal motion, asking a judge to make the final decision on who handles the case.”
  • “After Jenkins left the District Attorney’s Office in October 2021, she began working to oust her former boss Chesa Boudin, in a successful June recall campaign. In that time, she made public statements about how she thought that Boudin was not handling the Mallory case appropriately.”
  • “Pam Herzig, who is representing Mitchell, said in court Monday that the central issue is the public statements Jenkins made about the case after she left the DA’s Office. ‘The court can’t take her at her word,’ said Herzig about Jenkins’ declaration.”
  • “A lawyer for the Attorney General’s Office argued to the court that defense attorneys require proof via declaration that ethical walls were breached, not simply public statements made by Jenkins.”

Ohio ethics opinion provides valuable insight on office-sharing considerations” —

  • “Earlier this month, the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct (‘Board’) issued an Opinion which provides guidance to attorneys engaged or contemplating engaging in an office-sharing arrangement.”
  • “While nonlawyer staff can generally be shared, there are limitations. The Board cites Ky. Ethics Op. E-406 and cautions that when lawyers sharing office space represent adverse clients in a matter, the same nonlawyer staff member cannot be assigned to both lawyers during the representation.”
  • “The Board recommends implementing a written policy to identify conflicts when office sharing lawyers do use the same nonlawyer staff.”
  • “And though not addressed in the Opinion, one could certainly imagine problems, even disqualification, if steps are not implemented to ensure that documents are not segregated from staff working for adverse parties.”
  • “The Board recommends separating and safeguarding electronic and physical client files from other lawyers’ filing systems, keeping all in-person, telephonic, electronic, and written communications regarding clients in a manner to prevent unintentional disclosure; and ensuring that staff and lawyers alike refrain from communicating with or about clients in waiting and common areas. Lawyers should train nonlawyers staff on how to protect confidential client information.”
  • “DC’s Opinion 303 reminds lawyers that office sharing arrangements by unaffiliated attorneys can create a risk of public