Like hang gliding off the edge of a cliff, opening my own solo practice has been both exhilarating and frightening. And throughout the process of beginning my firm, one of my primary goals has been to identify all the possible ethics land mines in an effort to avoid any unexpected “explosions.” I already knew that solo practitioners often are the targets of bar disciplinary proceedings, very likely due in part to the fact that they do not have the benefit of a firm ethics advisor or vetting process like lawyers in larger firms. So, as I began to make decisions related to starting a firm, I was cognizant of the added risk that solos may be at greater risk of bumping into professional conduct rules. I wanted to avoid taking any risks. Thus, before I opened my doors, I familiarized myself with my jurisdictions’ rules of professional conduct and frequently contacted the anonymous ethics hotlines for my jurisdictions to ask questions as issues arose.
This article provides an overview of some of the key decisions related to opening my own firm and the ethics issues raised by those decisions. I have attached links to pertinent sections of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct where appropriate. My hope is that reading about the issues that I have listed may be helpful to other attorneys out there who are contemplating opening their own practices. I caution that this article is not an exhaustive analysis or all-inclusive list of all the possible ethics issues that might arise. Moreover, lawyers in different jurisdictions in different circumstances may not face all of the same issues or prioritize their concerns in the same way. Each lawyer should identify the considerations that are most important to him or her and the ethics issues that are raised by those considerations, as well as the relevant state rules of professional conduct and how the bar interprets those rules.