Risk Update

Professional Rules: Ethics, Client Confidentiality, Advertising, Fees, Litigation Funding, and the Texas Bar

No Fee If Ethics Breach

  • “The claim to disgorge legal fees was reinstated by the New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department: ‘An attorney who violates a disciplinary rule may be discharged for cause and is not entitled to fees for any services rendered” (Jay Dietz & Assoc. of Nassau County, Ltd. v Breslow & Walker, LLP, 153 AD3d 503, 506; see Matter of Montgomery, 272 NY 323, 326; Saint Annes Dev. Co. v Batista, 165 AD3d 997, 998; Doviak v Finkelstein &Partners, LLP, 90 AD3d 696, 699; Quinn v Walsh, 18 AD3d 638; Brill v Friends World Coll., 133 AD2d 729). A cause of action for forfeiture of legal fees based on an attorney’s discharge for cause due to ethical violations may be maintained independent of a cause of action alleging legal malpractice or breach of fiduciary duty, and does not require proof or allegations of damages (see Jay Dietz & Assoc. of Nassau County, Ltd. v Breslow & Walker, LLP, 153 AD3d at 506; Ulico Cas. Co. v Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker, 56 AD3d 1).'”

As NYC Bar considers ethics of litigation finance, it will keep secret the comments it received from the public” —

  • “The New York City Bar Association won’t be disclosing comments it solicited as it decides whether to modify ethics rules around third-party litigation finance.”
  • “The New York City Bar, one of the nation’s most influential legal associations, is studying how ethics rules and the law treat the fast-growing legal funding industry, which includes loans to plaintiffs and lawyers. Last year, the New York City Bar issued an ethics opinion prohibiting lawyers from borrowing money under contracts in which the return to the lender was a percentage of fees collected in the underlying litigation.”
  • “The bar association said it “will not be revisiting” Ethics Opinion 2018-5 banning fee-splitting with outside firms, but it is “open to exploring potential revisions to the ethics rules and/or legislation.” The comment period for its Litigation Funding Working Group has been extended to July 31. Eric Friedman, a spokesman for the bar association, said it won’t make comments public.”

Second state adopts ABA model rule barring discrimination and harassment by lawyers” —

  • “Maine has adopted an ABA model rule that bars discrimination and harassment by lawyers. Maine is the second state to adopt Rule 8.4(g) of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, according to Bloomberg Law. Vermont was the first.”
  • “The ABA rule says it is professional misconduct to ‘engage in conduct that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or socio-economic status in conduct related to the practice of law.’ The Maine ethics rule does not bar discrimination based on marital and socio-economic status.”

Texas Attorney General sides with lawyers challenging mandatory bar membership” —

  • “In one way or another, all the lawsuits are claiming that the states’ requirement that attorneys join the state bar association is an unconstitutional violation of attorneys’ First Amendment rights to free speech and association. More specifically, they argue that lawyers shouldn’t be forced to subsidize the state bar’s activities through mandatory membership dues if they don’t agree with those activities for ideological or political reasons.”
  • “For example, in the lawsuit in Texas, the plaintiffs are alleging they do not want to be forced to subsidize the state bar’s diversity initiatives, access to justice programs and programs that help prevent deportations, and that promote legislative drafting and advocacy.”
  • “The most recent development on this topic is that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed an amicus brief that sides with the plaintiffs in the case in Texas. He is the only AG to have taken this step so far in all the states where lawsuits have been filed.”

When Drafting Online Bio, Beware of Client Confidentiality and Advertising Rules” —

  • “Attorneys often use their online bios as a way to highlight their successes. However, attorneys need to balance that interest with their obligation of confidentiality under Rule 1.6 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct.”
  • “While most attorneys know not to include privileged information in a public publication, such as an online bio, many attorneys are additionally scrubbing their bios of any confidential information unless the client has specifically consented, particularly in light of a 2018 opinion from the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility. In Formal Opinion 480, the ABA noted that ‘[l]awyers who blog or engage in other public commentary may not reveal information relating to a representation, including information contained in a public record, unless authorized by a provision of the Model Rules.'”
  • “Some attorneys may assume that they are free to write about client representations where the representations are a matter of public record. However, relying on Formal Opinion 480, more attorneys and law firms are not including case details or client names on their bios without express client consent. Indeed, may critics have opined that Formal Opinion 480 is not revolutionary but simply confirms the language of Rule 1.6.”