American Bar Association
General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division
The Compleat Lawyer
Winter 1998
© American Bar Association. All rights reserved.

ABA Resources on Malpractice and Ethics

ETHICSearch

Where would you turn to find the answers to your legal ethics questions? One handy resources is ETHICSearch. Here's how it works: You call, write, fax, or e-mail ETHICSearch research lawyers, describing the situation you're handling that seems to pose an ethics issue.

You'll receive citations to the authorities you need to understand the issues fully and resolve the problem. They'll include: applicable ABA ethics rules; ethics opinions issued by the ABA as well as state and local bar opinions; and other relevant research material, including caselaw, law review articles, and treatise materials.

Most inquiries are handled on a same-day basis. Expedited same-day service can also be arranged. Fax and mailing services are also available on a same-day basis.

For example, let's say a law firm has been holding funds for clients it cannot locate in its client trust account. What are the firm's obligations to its missing clients? What should the firm do with the unclaimed funds?

The experienced ethics lawyers at the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility respond: ABA Formal Opinion 92-369 (1992) and many state and local bar association ethics opinions state that if after reasonable efforts the lawyer cannot locate the client, she should continue to maintain the funds in her client trust account. Some of the state and local bar association ethics opinions state further that in addition to maintaining the funds in her client trust account, the lawyer should follow the procedures in the applicable Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act that is in effect in her jurisdiction.

What if a lawyer spends six hours on a cross-country plane trip on behalf of client A. While on the plane, he spends four hours working on a matter for client B. Can he bill six hours to client A and four hours to client B?

The experts say no. According to ABA Formal Opinion 93-379 (1993), it would be improper for a lawyer to bill clients for more time than he actually spends on their behalf. In this instance, the lawyer should apportion the six hours spent on the plane between the two clients.

There's no charge for an initial consultation, or if the ETHICSearch lawyer can answer your question immediately. If you decide to ask for additional research, you'll be charged an hourly rate.

The charge for ABA members is $45/hour (a 25 percent discount from the nonmember rate of $60/hour). The minimum charge is $15.

For further information, call ETHICSearch at 312/988-5323; write to ETHICSearch, Center for Professional Responsibility, American Bar Association, 541 North Fairbanks Court, Chicago, IL 60611-3314; fax 312/988-5491; or send e-mail to ethicsearch@staff.abanet.org.

ABA National Lawyer Regulatory Data Bank

The National Lawyer Regulatory Data Bank is the only nationwide clearinghouse for information regarding public regulatory records of lawyers in the United States. Records of the following public regulatory actions are currently in the Data Bank: disbarment, resignation with charges pending, suspension, censure, reprimand, probation, transfer to inactive status, and reinstatement.

Records are also kept on other conditions of licensure: e.g., restitution, costs, limits on practice, account monitoring, substance abuse monitoring, and counseling.

In May 1968, the ABA Board of Governors created the National Lawyer Regulatory Data Bank to ensure effective reciprocal enforcement of lawyer regulatory actions. The principal purpose of the Data Bank is to assist states in determining when lawyers who are licensed in or seeking admission to one jurisdiction have been the subject of a regulatory action in another jurisdiction. The Data Bank is operated by the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility under guidelines established by the Board of Governors.

The Data Bank contains reports from the highest courts of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, from many federal courts—including the U.S. Supreme Court—and from some territories and administrative agencies. The Data Bank is used to prepare reports on the regulatory record [or lack thereof] of individual lawyers and verification of the regulatory record of applicants for pro hac vice and bar admission.

Data Bank services include:

  • Name checks. Telephone requests for verification of regulatory actions [or lack thereof] regarding individual lawyers will be accepted provided that the inquirer confirms the request in writing. Price: $5 per name. Discounts are available for courts and admission agencies.
  • Statistical research reports. Specialized statistical information can be provided. Requests for research must be in writing and must state the purpose for which the information will be used. Available reports include alphabetical or cumulative lists of lawyer regulatory actions in specific jurisdictions. Price: $30 per report for non-ABA members; $20 per report for ABA members; $10 per report for CPR members.

For more information, contact the National Lawyer Regulatory Data Bank, ABA Center for Professional Responsibility, at 312/988-5321; fax 312/988-5491.

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