YourABA April 2012 Masthead

Ethics 20/20: The future of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct

What impact will technology and the globalization of business have on the legal profession? And in light of that impact, should any changes be made to the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct and other policies governing lawyer regulation?

In 2009, the ABA created the Ethics 20/20 Commission to conduct a thorough, three-year review of its Model Rules of Professional Conduct and the U.S. system of lawyer regulation in the context of technology advances and global legal practice developments.

"Our challenge … is to study these issues and, with 20/20 vision, propose policy recommendations that will allow lawyers to better serve their clients, the courts and the public now and well into the future," wrote commission co-chairs Jamie Gorelick and Michael Traynor on the Ethics 20/20 Commission webpage.

The commission will respond to the following developments as reported to it by various segments of the legal profession as well as clients, consumer groups and business that support, sell to and report on the profession:

  • Legal advice and information about legal services are increasingly communicated through electronic media—including email, texts, podcasts, blogs, tweets and websites—reaching easily across domestic and international jurisdictional lines.
  • Client confidences are no longer kept just in file cabinets, but on laptops, smartphones, tablets and in “the cloud.”
  • Connections with potential clients are sought not just through print advertisements but via social networks, lead generation services, "pay-per-click" ads and "deal of the day" coupon sites.

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  • Legal and non-legal services are increasingly outsourced, both domestically and internationally, raising questions for lawyers working with other people and entities about who is responsible for the work that is being outsourced.
  • Lawyers in all practice settings increasingly need to cross state and national borders—virtually and physically—in order to serve their clients. They need to know what rules apply to them.
  • Non-U.S. lawyers increasingly seek to practice in the United States, and U.S. lawyers increasingly need to practice internationally in order to meet their clients’ needs.
  • In other countries, there is movement toward both more liberal multijurisdictional practices and permitting new law firm practice structures, including nonlawyer ownership interests in law firms.
  • Lawyers change jobs regularly, triggering potential conflicts of interest and other ethics issues that need to be addressed.
  • Many new ways of funding litigation are emerging.

"In general, we have found that the principles underlying our current Model Rules are applicable to these new developments," wrote commission co-chairs Gorelick and Traynor in a memo summarizing the commission's actions to date. "As a result, many of our recommendations involve clarifications and expansions of existing Rules and policies rather than an overhaul. In sum, our goal has been to apply the core values of the profession to 21st century challenges."

Information on the commission, including its materials on technology (confidentiality and client development); uniformity, conflicts of interest and choice of law; outsourcing; alternative litigation financing; alternative law practice structures; inbound foreign lawyers; and rankings can be found at the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 webpage.

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