New Ethics Rules Weigh In on Flat Fees

new rules of professional conductThe following is a guest blog post by Megan Zavieh. Megan focuses her practice exclusively on attorney ethics, providing guidance to attorneys, representing attorneys facing State Bar discipline, podcasting, and writing extensively on ethics issues.

California’s new Rules of Professional Conduct, effective November 1, 2018, recognizes a trend in legal services billing—flat fees. Flat fees are becoming more common as an alternative to the traditional billable hour. As they rise in popularity outside of criminal law, the rules directly address them. Here’s what you need to know and do. Continue reading

Big Changes for CA Companies Using “Independent Contractors”

Photo of a delivery driver checking his deliveries in his van. Is he an employee or an independent contractor?Determining whether a California worker is an independent contractor or an employee has never been an exact science, with a lot riding on correct classification. But the California Supreme Court recently tried to simplify the issue by adopting a new “ABC” test for California, at least for claims under the IWC Wage Orders for minimum wage, overtime pay, and meal and rest period violations. Continue reading

3 New Rules Every Criminal Law Attorney Needs to Know

new rules of professional conductThe following is a guest blog post by Garrick Byers, known as the Statute Decoder because of his facility in interpreting statutes and rules. He is the chairperson of the California Public Defenders Association’s (CPDA’s) Ethics Committee, and is a former CPDA president. He is a criminal law specialist and a frequent speaker and writer on criminal law topics, including ethics. He was a public defender for 33 years and is currently in private practice, handling criminal law appeals, writs, motions, and case consultations.

The new California Rules of Professional Conduct, effective November 1, 2018, use the format and much of the substance of the ABA Model Rules. Here are three of the most important changes for prosecution and defense counsel.

1. The most urgent change: prosecutorial discovery responsibilities (new Rule 3.8). The California Supreme Court adopted this new rule a year before the others, effective November 1, 2017, originally as an addition to current Rule 5-110. Paragraph (D) was added to require prosecutors to

[Disclose]…all evidence or information known to the prosecutor that the prosecutor knows or reasonably should know tends to negate the guilt…, mitigate the offense, or…the sentence, except when the prosecutor is relieved of this responsibility by a protective order of the tribunal;

Also added was Comment [3]: “The disclosure obligations…are not limited to evidence or information that is material as defined by Brady v. Maryland (1963) 373 U.S. 83…and its progeny.”

2. Communication with a represented party person (new Rule 4.2). Current Rule 2-100 bars communication without that lawyer’s consent only with a represented “party.” The new rule expands this to “person”:

(a) In representing a client, a lawyer shall not communicate directly or indirectly about the subject of the representation with a person the lawyer knows to be represented by another lawyer in the matter, unless the lawyer has the consent of the other lawyer.

Comment [8] says “This rule…is not intended to preclude communications with represented persons [during]…investigative activities engaged in, directly or indirectly, by lawyers representing persons whom the government has accused of or is investigating for crimes, to the extent those investigative activities are authorized by law.”

3. Requirement to cite adverse authority (new Rule 3.3(a)(2)). It has never been a good tactic to fail to cite adverse authority, but it wasn’t against the disciplinary rules until now:

[A lawyer shall not] fail to disclose to the tribunal legal authority in the controlling jurisdiction known to the lawyer to be directly adverse to the position of the client and not disclosed by opposing counsel…

Comment [3] adds, “Legal authority in the controlling jurisdiction may include legal authority outside the jurisdiction…such as a federal statute or case that is determinative of an issue in a state court proceeding or a Supreme Court decision that is binding on a lower court.”

Comment [4] says that this duty applies to “all lawyers, including defense counsel in criminal cases.” And that  “[t]he obligations of a lawyer under these rules…[is] subordinate to applicable constitutional provisions.”

These and several other reforms and changes require the criminal law bar to become familiar with the new Rules of Professional Conduct and adjust their practices accordingly.

Don’t miss Mr. Byers discussing the rules in CEB’s webinar The New Rules of Professional Conduct: What All Attorneys Need to Know on October 23rd at noon.

© The Regents of the University of California, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Highlights of the New California Professional Rules

new rules of professional conductThe following is a guest blog post by Merri A. Baldwin. Merri is a shareholder at Rogers Joseph O’Donnell P.C., where her practice focuses on attorney liability and conduct, including malpractice, State Bar discipline, ethics advice, motions to disqualify and sanctions defense. She is the former Chair of the California State Bar Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct.  She teaches professional responsibility at Berkeley Law, and is a certified specialist in Legal Malpractice Law. 

In May, after several rounds and many years of drafting, editing, and consideration, the California Supreme Court approved comprehensive changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct governing lawyers in California to take effect on November 1, 2018. These significant changes bring California rules more in line with the rest of the country.  Here are some highlights of the new rules. Continue reading

Endless Summons: No Statute of Limitations on Spouse’s Claim for Breach of Fiduciary Duty

The appellate decision in Yeh v Tai (2017) 18 CA5th 953 completely misses the main issue in the case but still makes an important point about breach of fiduciary duty claims against a deceased spouse. Continue reading

Divorce Is Not Any Easier After Trump’s Tax Cut

wedding cake split apart to show divorce and split of assetsThe following is a guest post from Ed Lyman, a trial and appellate attorney at Walzer Melcher LLP who handles complex dissolution of marriage and domestic partnerships for high net worth individuals.

Family law attorneys and accountants are struggling to grasp the impact of the GOP’s tax overhaul on divorces. The biggest changes that affect divorcées is the repeal of various deductions, the creation of new ones, large tax cuts for business entities, and eliminating many exemptions. These changes require special attention when calculating alimony, child support, and division of marital assets. Continue reading

Just Passing Through: New Deduction for Business Income Expires in 2026

pass through tax benefit dollarsUnder new IRC §199A, business entity owners may be able to deduct 20 percent of passthrough income. This tax boon, which is set to sunset after December 31, 2025, has many lawyers wondering whether they might personally benefit.

Continue reading

Alas Poor Urick: SLAPP-stick Comedy Relieves Probate Court Drama

Updated 2/1/18: In Gaynor v Bulen (Jan. 23, 2018, D070907) 2018 Cal App Lexis 53, the court held that a petition alleging that trust assets were improperly used in probate litigation was not a cause of action arising from protected activity under the anti-SLAPP statute. Although the alleged breach of loyalty may have been carried out by the filing of probate petitions, the petitioning activity itself was not the basis of the claim.

Despite its name, a statute designed to deter strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) has been applied to a variety of private disputes, including probate proceedings, as a recent decision illustrates. Continue reading

New Year, New Laws for Real Property Lawyers

The California legislature has enacted several new laws that may affect your real property law practice. Here are some of the key statutory changes you need to know about. Continue reading

New Year, New Laws for Employment Lawyers

The California legislature has enacted several new laws that will affect employers and employment lawyers. Here are some of the key statutory changes you need to know about. Continue reading