The Ethical Breakup: How to Switch Firms

It's just business, right? Not when it comes to the ethical and professional requirements associated with the transition to a new professional practice. Many professionals are seeking to expand their practice, or move, or add partners in an effort to acquire new talent. Some firms are streamlining and shrinking their practice. Under the right circumstances, departures may lead to mutually beneficial business opportunities for the departing professional and the former firm. In other cases, however, the actions taken by departing professionals could lead to costly litigation.
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Attorney Uses Confidential Info to Complete Insider Trades

The concern for the public’s trust in the legal profession remains a core goal of attorney ethics committees nationwide. Especially with the ease of accessing confidential information, attorney’s protection of client data has truly come into focus in recent years. This week, the Kentucky Supreme Court will decide whether an attorney will be permitted to continue his career in light of allegations that he used confidential client information to complete insider trades. The Kentucky Board of Professional Conduct recommended that the attorney be suspended for two years.
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Referral Fees: The Logistics of Fee Sharing

Fee sharing is not unfamiliar to most attorneys.  Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5(e) permits lawyers who are not in the same firm to share or divide a fee.  A typical example is when an attorney refers a case out to “trial counsel”.  But, fee sharing has its restrictions. For example, the Model Rules permit fee sharing only when the fee is reasonable, the client agrees to the arrangement and the division of the fee is proportionate to the share of each lawyer’s services or the lawyers assume joint responsibility for the representation. These requirements create ethical implications for lawyers engaged in fee sharing. Fortunately, the ABA recently provided some guidance. 
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Social Media Ethical Considerations

You love blogging. Who doesn’t? For some professionals, blogging is an important part of education, outreach and networking. But, as we’ve discussed previously, blogs may be considered advertising and, if so, ethical considerations apply. The State Bar of California Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility recently circulated a proposed opinion for public comment that addresses the ethical implications of blogging by attorneys. The opinion considers when a communication subject to the Rules of Professional Conduct on attorney advertising.
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Partner? Associate? Of Counsel? Does it Matter for Conflict Purposes?

Pursuant to ABA Model Rule 1.10, a single attorney’s conflict of interest may be imputed to the entire law firm. The Rule provides that while lawyers are associated in a firm, none of them shall knowingly represent a client when any one of them practicing alone would be prohibited from doing so under the Rules. It is not uncommon for lawyers to have different associations with a particular firm—for example the term “of counsel” is often used to designate a role different from the traditional partner or associate positions. This may beg the question what level of involvement must an attorney have in order to be “associated with” a particular firm for conflicts purposes. A recent case out of the U.S. District Court of New Jersey involving a “seconded” attorney addressed just this issue.
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Gloves Off: Boxers’ Lawsuit Highlights Sanctionable Depo Misconduct

Manny and Floyd can't stop fighting. Recently, counsel for the promoter of Boxer Manny Pacquiao, Top Rank Inc., moved for another opportunity to depose an investment firm, as part of a $100 million antitrust lawsuit against the firm and Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s manager, saying its attorneys' “obstructionist behavior” barred proper questioning. According to Top Rank, counsel for the deponent obstructed the proceeding by instructing the witness not to answer several questions and by failing to prepare the representative for the line of questioning Top Rank advised that it tended to pursue. The result, per Top Rank, was a “sham deposition”. This dispute highlights what may happen when a party engages in misconduct during a deposition.
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Initial Consult Fee ≠ A/C Relationship

We recently addressed the ethical implications of the initial, would-be client interview. As we discussed, the lawyer owes certain duties to a potential client and those duties vary from those owed to former and current clients. Whether an attorney-client relationship is actually formed can dictate whether a lawyer has a conflict of interest down the road when representing a new client. A recent decision out of the North Dakota Supreme court illustrates this concept.
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Attorney Suspended for Online Spat with Clients

Many of us are perfectly comfortable publishing to an anonymous, online audience what we ate for dinner, our political views, relationship status, the argument we had with a cashier, or other personal details. This is not uncommon on various forms of social networking. But, when it comes to professional relationships, there are rules to follow. As a result, today's professionals must pause before airing dirty laundry concerning a client or former client. Doing so risks violating ethical duties to former clients of confidentiality and can impair reputations.
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