Risk Update

Risk Roundup (Disasters, Ethics Rules & Engagement Letters)

Okay, let’s get on with the business. I’ve had my eye on some interesting developments over the past few months and thought a broad summary of key developments would be interesting. Just in case folks haven’t tracked all the in’s and out’s of what’s been going on out there.

ABA releases new ethics guidance on dealing with disasters

  • “Recent large-scale disasters like Hurricane Florence and wildfires on the West Coast have reinforced the need for the ABA to address the myriad rules that lawyers must consider under these challenging circumstances. ABA Formal Ethics Opinion 482, released on Wednesday by the Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility, clarifies the variety of ethical obligations attorneys face when disaster strikes.”
  • “Following a disaster, a lawyer must evaluate available methods to maintain communication with clients… Lawyers should also remember that the duty of competency, Rule 1.1 includes a technology clause that requires lawyers to consider the benefits and risks of relevant technology. Because a disaster can destroy lawyers’ paper files, lawyers “must evaluate in advance storing files electronically” so that they can access those files after a disaster. Storing client files through cloud technology requires lawyers to consider confidentially obligations.”

And on the broader topic of evolving ethics rules: “Crafting Legal Ethics Rules For The 21st Century: How can the profession’s rules of conduct keep pace with the rapidly evolving technological landscape?

  • “Anecdotally, at least, there is a significant disconnect between the rules of professional conduct and the day-to-day reality of practicing lawyers. There is an apparent sea change happening in the world of legal ethics as attorneys confront previously uncontemplated ethical issues. Can you reference facts about a case when responding to a negative or false online review? Is it ethical for a lawyer to Facebook “friend” a judge before whom she appears? Can you allow your firm’s web consultant to view the names of your potential clients through your website contact form?”
  • “Above the Law and the Data-Driven Ethics Initiative are partnering on an unprecedented research effort to explore attorney perceptions of the rules of professional conduct, particularly as they intersect with emerging digital technologies. Our ultimate goal is to create an open source legal ethics resource. We hope this resource will serve to deliver actionable intelligence to the legal community by synthesizing data from actual practicing lawyers.”

Another topic that continues to continue is engagement letters. Here’s a fresh take on that topic by consultant Mike Quartararo: “Is It Time To Upgrade Your Engagement Letters?

  • “Wouldn’t legal services as a whole and the client relationship in particular benefit from more expansive, specific, individualized engagement letters?”
  • “So, how is it that legal engagement letters became such a perfunctory process? Well, at least in New York, it’s because 20 years ago the court system asked lawyers to begin using them to outline the scope of their legal services, the fees to be charged, and the right to arbitration of any disputes. To be sure, anyone who hires a lawyer wants to know at least these three things. But is that enough?”
  • “Here’s a challenge to GCs and corporate legal operations people: Dig out the engagement letters your organization has signed with outside counsel in the last few years. Go back as far as you like. Lay them out on a table (or across your computer monitor) and see if they aren’t just the same recycled letter with changed dates and increased billing rates.”
  • “If I were a corporate attorney charged with engaging outside counsel, engagement letters that I sign would include a lot more. And I’m sure that some of these things are discussed between client and counsel, but in today’s market, it just makes sense for engagement letters to contain some of these things. Here’s my list of what should be included in an engagement letter: [read more]”