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

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.

For more on the new rules, check out CEB’s webinar The New Rules of Professional Conduct: Discrimination and Competence on September 25th at noon, in which Rules Revision Commission member Carol Langford will break down the new rules and tell you what you need to know to meet your ethical duties. And 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.

Spell Out the Effective Date of Your Fee Agreement

Every contract for legal services should contain a clause specifying the date the agreement will become effective. This date establishes the beginning of the attorney-client relationship and marks the beginning of the attorney’s fiduciary duties toward the client. Continue reading

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

What to Tell Clients When Discovery Starts

starting discovery responsesOnce discovery starts, you’ll need to contact your client to help with responses. Here’s a sample letter to explain what is happening and what you need from your client. Continue reading

Who Will Handle Your Law Practice If You Can’t?

decide who will handle your law practice if you have an emergencyNo one likes to think about it, but sole practitioners should take some time to plan for what will happen in the event of their death or disability. Do you have a plan for who will handle your practice if the need arises? Continue reading

Representing Co-Parties? Send This Letter.

lawyers advising co-clients about potential conflicts of interestWhen you represent individuals as co-parties to a case, there’s either an actual conflict or a potential for one. That’s why you need to send a letter like this to both parties.

Continue reading

The Key to Increasing Lawyer Productivity

lawyers can increase their productivityThe following is a guest blog post by Ritu Goswamy, Esq. Ritu is a lawyer, author, and legal productivity consultant. Ritu’s first book, The New Billable Hour: Bill More Hours, Be More Productive, and Still Have Work-Life Balance, is available for free by emailing her at ritu[at]newbillablehour.com.

“Productivity” is defined as the measure of output per unit of input. To get an increase in productivity, you need greater input efficiency. Here’s how lawyers can apply this principle to increase their productivity and make their practice more rewarding on every level. Continue reading

Do You Know When an Oral Fee Agreement is Enough?

lawyer trying to remember all of the circumstances in which an oral fee agreement is okayAlthough you should always memorialize your attorney-client fee agreements in writing, there are some limited circumstances in which an oral agreement covering attorney fees is legally permissible. How many of those circumstances can you identify? Continue reading

5 Things to Include in Your Email Policy

sending protected email between attorney and clientOne of the first communications you should send to a new client is your email policy.  Explain the dangers involved in emailing privileged information and tell them what precautions to take. Continue reading