New Rules of Professional Conduct went into effect under the California State Bar in November 2018. Understand what those standards entail—and why would they matter for an attorney and a client. This blog will take a look.

In November 2018 the California State Bar adopted a new set of rules governing ethics for attorneys, covered in the Rules of Professional Conduct. Along with renumbering the rules to more closely follow the American Bar Association Model Rules, California increased the number of ethics rules from 46 to 69, with significant changes to how attorneys are to practice law, their relationships with clients, and professional conduct in various areas of practice.

For example, new Rule 1.1 states that “(a) lawyer shall not intentionally, recklessly, with gross negligence, or repeatedly fail to perform legal services with competence.” The phrase “with gross negligence” is a change from former Rule 3.110, in that single acts of ordinary negligence have often not been found to be a violation of the rule in the State Supreme Court.  

Looking at new Rule 1.3, we find that diligence on the part of an attorney is a mandated duty, separate and distinct from other duties. A lawyer “acts with commitment and dedication to the interests of the client and does not neglect or disregard, or unduly delay a legal matter entrusted to the lawyer.” Rule 1.3(b)  Formerly this level of diligence used to be found in former Rule 3.110, as part of the duty of competence. When the rules were rewritten, the State Bar commission wanted to make diligence its own duty in order to improve consumer confidence in the profession.

Rule 1.7 focuses on the impact and knowledge of any conflicts the lawyer may have that could affect the client’s interests and allows for waivers in certain circumstances, but the rule does require that written disclosure must be made to the client. Conflicts could arise with other of the attorney’s clients, former clients, third parties, or the interests of the lawyer.

In the new Rule 1.8.10, there is now a strict prohibition on sexual relationships with clients who are not the spouse or domestic partner of the attorney, or with whom the attorney did not have a consensual sexual relationship prior to becoming a client. Previously, in Rule 3.120 the attorney was prohibited from exchanging legal services for sexual favors, or from coercing or intimidating a client into sex.  

Rule 1.15 now states that advance fee deposits must now be held in a client trust account maintained in California, which includes fees that were held prior to the new rule. The former rule 4.100 only required that funds be deposited into a client trust account.

New Rules 5.1 and 5.3 require an attorney to supervise subordinates. In former Rule 3.110, a duty to supervise was not explicitly part of the rule or the role of attorneys in such a position.

Finally, in new Rule 8.4.1, an attorney is prohibited from unlawful harassment, discrimination and harassment in representing, terminating, or refusing to provide legal services, and in the operation of a law practice.  

All attorneys licensed in California should read and familiarize themselves with all of the new rules, not just the ones we discuss here. An attorney’s devotion to diligence, competence, professionalism, proper client relationships and careful law practice and firm management are key but they are not the only responsibilities a California attorney is now tasked with.  

Contact Us for Legal Assistance

Navigating through the new set of rules can be challenging. The experienced legal team at JWB Family law are well-versed in the impact of these rules on a practicing family law attorney. We are able to discuss this in greater detail and help you become well-versed in what these changes mean. Contact our office today to schedule your discreet consultation at our San Diego location.