June 21, 2000
Hon. E. Norman Veasey
Chair, ABA Commission on Evaluation
of the Rules of Professional Conduct
Supreme Court of Delaware
11 th Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE 19801
Re: Model Rule 6.5
Dear Justice Veasey:
I write on behalf of the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants in support of Proposed Model Rule of Professional Conduct 6.5. We believe that this proposed new rule is an important step toward addressing significant ethical issues that have been raised by developments over the past decade in the delivery of legal services to poor and moderate income persons.
The Commission's mandate is to review the Model Rules, evaluating them in light of developments in the law and in the legal profession in the nearly 20 years since their adoption. This is clearly an area in which there have been profound changes.
The past several years have seen fundamental changes in the delivery of civil legal assistance to persons of low and moderate income. In response to resource reductions, legal services organizations have developed innovative approaches to provide service to a larger number of people. Hotlines, brief advice clinics and even the Internet have opened new avenues to offer poor people legal assistance. We believe that the draft rule correctly recognizes and accommodates the unique circumstances in which hotlines and other forms of limited legal assistance are provided.
The Committee's view has been that the rules of professional responsibility should provide to all clients, equally, adequate protections against harm that may result from lawyer conflicts of interest. Therefore, we expressed concern in the past about proposals that would have applied different rules of imputed conflicts to legal services offices and to private law firms. In that situation, we believed that there were very real risks that, even absent a shared interest in financial gain among lawyers in a legal services office, those lawyers would be subject to other pressures and relationships within the office that could endanger a client's interests if all conflicts that would otherwise be imputed were to be waived by a rule.
In the current situation, we do not perceive any realistic likelihood of harm that could result to a client who receives certain forms of limited legal assistance from a lawyer who does not have an actual conflict in the matter. Because the assistance provided will be limited and provided outside of the context of the lawyer's firm, there is little or no risk that the pressures of other clients of the lawyer's firm will be brought to bear on the lawyer. In this situation, we believe that it is reasonable not to impute conflicts that arise from the lawyer's full-time employment.
Doreen D. Dodson
cc: Members, Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants
Joanne Garvey, Board of Governors Liaison