The State Bar seeks public comment on Proposed Formal Opinion Interim No. 13-0003 (Ethical Obligations When Departing Firm)
Deadline: October 17, 2019
The State Bar Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct (COPRAC) is charged with the task of issuing advisory opinions on the ethical propriety of hypothetical attorney conduct. In accordance with State Bar policy and procedure, the Committee shall publish proposed formal opinions for public comment (See, State Bar Board of Trustee Resolutions July 1979 and December 2004. See also, Board of Trustee Resolution November 2016).
On May 10, 2018, the California Supreme Court issued an order approving 69 new Rules of Professional Conduct, which will go into effect on November 1, 2018. Information about the new rules is available at the State Bar website. Proposed Formal Opinion Interim No. 13-0003 interprets the new Rules of Professional Conduct.
Proposed Formal Opinion Interim No. 13‑0003 considers: What ethical obligations arise when a lawyer departs from her law firm?
The opinion interprets rules 1.1, 1.4, 1.7, 1.10, 1.16, 1.18, 5.1, 5.2, 7.1, 7.2 and 7.3 of the Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar of California; and Business and Professions Code section 6068(e).
The opinion digest states: The departing lawyer and the law firm each have ethical obligations in connection with the departure and must prioritize their ethical obligations to each client above their own competing interests. Specifically, if the departure of the lawyer is a significant development to a particular client, the lawyer and the law firm each have a duty to communicate the fact of the departure to the client and to explain the significance of the change in representation so that the client may make an informed choice regarding counsel going forward. During all phases of the departure, the lawyer and the law firm must also be mindful of their continuing obligations to protect client confidences and to avoid conflicts of interests with clients. If the lawyer or law firm is unable to competently handle the client’s representation as a result of the departure (and cannot remedy that situation), or if the client chooses to make a change in its representation, the lawyer or law firm must comply with Rule 1.16, including taking “reasonable steps to avoid reasonably foreseeable prejudice to the rights of the client.” Finally, both the departing lawyer and the law firm have a duty to cooperate in the transition of any client matter in order to protect the client’s interests.
At its February 22, 2018 meeting and in accordance with its Rules of Procedure, the State Bar Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct tentatively approved Proposed Formal Opinion Interim No. 13-0003 for a 90-day public comment distribution. Subsequently, at its July 26, 2019 meeting, COPRAC revised the opinion in response to public comment and approved Proposed Formal Opinion Interim No. 13-0003 for an additional 60-day public comment distribution.
Proposed Formal Opinion Interim No. 13-0003
State Bar Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct
October 17, 2019
Office of Professional Competence, Planning and Development
State Bar of California
180 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA 94105-1639