SUSAN SAAB FORTNEY
TEXAS TECH UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW
MAY 17, 1999
The cover story on the May 1999 issue of the ABA Journal refers to a serious problem plaguing law firms. As captured in bold letters, law firm associates are experiencing a "loss of direction." The pressure on associates and partners to bill and to generate income for the firm has eroded the amount of supervision and training provided to associates. At the same time, the movement of firms to reorganize as limited liability entities may undermine firm principals' willingness to act as supervisors, mentors and managers. Senior attorneys may shirk supervisory responsibilities if they determine that involvement in other attorneys' work will expose the senior attorneys to personal liability. Now firm attorneys tend to operate more as free agents rather than as professionals committed to a particular firm. The Ethics 2000 Commission should consider the ethical implications of these changes and the economics of law firm practice.
In this process, a starting point is to revise Model Rule 5.1(a). Model Rule 5.1(a) states:
A partner in a law firm shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the firm has in effect measures giving reasonable assurance that all lawyers in the firm conform to the rules of professional conduct
To underscore the fact that the rule imposes a professional responsibility on all partners in a firm, the rule should be revised to clarify that the rule applies to each partner in a firm. The Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct take this approach. As stated:
Each partner in a law firm shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the firm has in effect measures giving reasonable assurance that the conduct of all lawyers in the firm conforms to these Rules.
By changing one word in the current Model Rule, the revised rule clarifies that each partner shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the firm implements measures giving reasonable assurance that all firm attorneys' conduct conforms to the applicable ethics rules. This minor change communicates that firm partners share a professional responsibility for the ethical infrastructure of a firm.
I urge you to consider this rule revision.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to comment.