Rules of Professional Conduct
NOTE: Operative January 1, 2012, Business & Professions Code section 6010, in part, provides that the State Bar is governed by a board known as the board of trustees of the State Bar and that any provision of law referring to the “board of governors” shall be deemed to refer to the “board of trustees.” In accordance with this law, references to the “board of governors” included in the current Rules of Professional Conduct are deemed to refer to the “board of trustees.”
(A) Purpose and Function.
The following rules are intended to regulate professional conduct of members of the State Bar through discipline. They have been adopted by the Board of Governors of the State Bar of California and approved by the Supreme Court of California pursuant to Business and professions Code sections 6076 and 6077 to protect the public and to promote respect and confidence in the legal profession. These rules together with any standards adopted by the Board of Governors pursuant to these rules shall be binding upon all members of the State Bar.
For a willful breach of any of these rules, the Board of Governors has the power to discipline members as provided by law.
The prohibition of certain conduct in these rules is not exclusive. Members are also bound by applicable law including the State Bar Act (Bus. & prof. Code, §6000 et seq.) and opinions of California courts. Although not binding, opinions of ethics committees in California should be consulted by members for guidance on proper professional conduct. Ethics opinions and rules and standards promulgated by other jurisdictions and bar associations may also be considered.
These rules are not intended to create new civil causes of action. Nothing in these rules shall be deemed to create, augment, diminish, or eliminate any substantive legal duty of lawyers or the non-disciplinary consequences of violating such a duty.
(1) "Law Firm" means:
(a) two or more lawyers whose activities constitute the practice of law, and who share its profits,expenses, and liabilities; or
(b) a law corporation which employs more than one lawyer; or
(c) a division, department, office, or group within a business entity, which includes more than one lawyer who performs legal services for the business entity; or
(d) a publicly funded entity which employs more than one lawyer to perform legal services.
(2) " Member" means a member of the State Bar of California.
(3) "Lawyer" means a member of the State Bar of California or a person who is admitted in good standing of and eligible to practice before the bar of any United States court or the highest court of the District of Columbia or any state, territory, or insular possession of the United States, or is licensed to practice law in, or is admitted in good standing and eligible to practice before the bar of the highest court of, a foreign country or any political subdivision thereof.
(4) "Associate" means an employee or fellow employee who is employed as a lawyer.
(5) "Shareholder" means a shareholder in a professional corporation pursuant to Business and professions Code section 6160 et seq.
(C) Purpose of Discussions.
Because it is a practical impossibility to convey in black letter form all of the nuances of these disciplinary rules, the comments contained in the Discussions of the rules, while they do not add independent basis for imposing discipline, are intended to provide guidance for interpreting the rules and practicing in compliance with them.
(D) Geographic Scope of Rules.
(1) As to members:
These rules shall govern the activities of members in and outside this state, except as members lawfully practicing outside this state may be specifically required by a jurisdiction in which they are practicing to follow Rules of Professional Conduct different from these rules.
(2) As to lawyers from other jurisdictions who are not members:
These rules shall also govern the activities of lawyers while engaged in the performance of lawyer functions in this state; but nothing contained in these rules shall be deemed to authorize the performance of such functions by such persons in this state except as otherwise permitted by law.
(E) These rules may be cited and referred to as "Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar of California."
The Rules of Professional Conduct are intended to establish the standards for members for purposes of discipline. (See Ames v. State Bar (1973) 8 Cal.3d 910 [106 Cal.Rptr. 489].) The fact that a member has engaged in conduct that may be contrary to these rules does not automatically give rise to a civil cause of action. (See Noble v. Sears, Roebuck & Co. (1973) 33 Cal.App.3d 654 [109 Cal.Rptr. 269]; Wilhelm v. pray, price, Williams & Russell (1986) 186 Cal.App.3d 1324 [231 Cal.Rptr. 355].) These rules are not intended to supercede existing law relating to members in non-disciplinary contexts. (See, e.g., Klemm v. Superior Court (1977) 75 Cal.App.3d 893 [142 Cal.Rptr. 509] (motion for disqualification of counsel due to a conflict of interest); Academy of California Optometrists, Inc. v. Superior Court (1975) 51 Cal.App.3d 999 [124 Cal.Rptr. 668] (duty to return client files); Chronometrics, Inc. v. Sysgen, Inc. (1980) 110 Cal.App.3d 597 [168 Cal.Rptr. 196] (disqualification of member appropriate remedy for improper communication with adverse party).)
Law firm, as defined by subparagraph (B)(1), is not intended to include an association of lawyers who do not share profits, expenses, and liabilities. The subparagraph is not intended to imply that a law firm may include a person who is not a member in violation of the law governing the unauthorized practice of law. (Amended by order of the Supreme Court, operative September 14, 1992.)