Staying on Message
A cornerstone of the legal profession is to give our clients objective, independent advice and maintain the ability to advocate honestly and zealously on their behalf. Our commitment to this rests on our dedication and compliance in the critically important realm of professional responsibility and ethics.
The ABA provides global leadership in legal ethics, professional regulation, professionalism and client protection. We strengthen the ABA’s voice as we advocate against government regulations that would hinder our ability to serve clients effectively.
Recently we have opposed provisions in the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency Act that would grant the government broad new powers to regulate various types of lawyers, including those who help borrowers consolidate or settle their debts or avoid foreclosure. This expansive new authority would be inconsistent with the profession’s long-standing position that federal legislation should not extend to matters undertaken by lawyers that are subject to regulation by state courts.
‘RED FLAG’ LOWERED
in another recent development, the ABA successfully sued the Federal Trade Commission on the agency’s interpretation of lawyers as “creditors” in its “red flags rule,” which would have required lawyers to monitor and report signs of identity theft involving their clients. An October ruling in federal district court was an important victory. The court recognized that the FTC overreached and its application of the rule was unreasonable.
Our service of the public interest is underscored by our vigilance in meeting the legal needs and challenges of an evolving society. The ABA’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility develops formal ethics opinions interpreting proper conduct for lawyers in an increasingly mobile practice environment. The committee recently published Formal Opinion 09-455 relating to disclosure of conflicts information when lawyers move between law firms. This follows amendments to Model Rule 1.10, adopted by the ABA House of Delegates, to permit the screening of a lawyer who moves laterally from one private law firm to another. The screening ensures that conflicts of interest are not imputed to the other lawyers in the new law firm. This is particularly important for the employment prospects of those whose careers are affected by the recession.
The ABA’s ethicsearch service provides members with guidance on how to navigate the ethical rules and unique ethical challenges posed by technological advances and increased multijurisdictional practice.
In an increasingly global and technology-driven legal services market, we must ensure that our profession can ethically and professionally serve clients, the courts and the public well into the 21st century. I look forward to having you join me on this important journey, which is being led by the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20.
Co-chaired by Jamie S. Gorelick of Washington, D.C., and Michael Traynor of Berkeley, Calif., the commission has begun a three-year process of thoroughly reviewing the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct and the ABA’s professional regulatory policies.
The commission’s mission is large and complex. It focuses on ethical and regulatory issues affecting the entire spectrum of legal work. The ethical and regulatory challenges raised by globalization and technology are not just big-firm issues. For solo and small-firm practitioners, technology opens up the world. Advances in technology continue to create new opportunities for all lawyers to better serve clients, increase access to justice, and make law practices more efficient and cost-effective in the global legal services marketplace.
We recognize the importance of these issues to all segments of the legal profession. As a result, we are committed to working transparently and collaboratively. The commission will engage the judiciary, the bar (including state, local, international and specialty bar associations) and the public in framing and discussing the issues for consideration and enlisting support in crafting suitable recommendations. As such, I encourage you to review and comment on the commission’s materials, particularly its preliminary issues outline, at abanet.org/ethics2020.
Working together, we will be guided by three principles: protecting the public, preserving our core values, and maintaining a strong, independent, self-regulating profession. I thank those of you who have supported our efforts, and I invite all of you to join us in strengthening this defining aspect of the legal profession.