Between required law school classes and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, attorneys are given considerable training on the rules of professional conduct before starting a career. Attorneys get further refreshers on the rules when reviewing potential clients and the occasional issues that arise during representation. But how many attorneys review the rules of professional conduct that apply to the specific jurisdictions in which they practice? Considering the heavy overlap between the different states and model rules of professional conduct, doing so may seem like a waste of time. It isn’t. Attorneys who fail to review their particular states’ rules do so at their own risk as distinctive rules do exist in many states.
For example, Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 1.4(c) requires any lawyer in private practice to “inform a new client in writing if the lawyer does not have professional liability insurance of at least $100,000 per occurrence and $300,000 in the aggregate per year.” This rule is situated within the rule covering client communication and is idiosyncratic to Pennsylvania. In fact, the rule does not exist in any other nearby state, including New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Virginia, Massachusetts or Maryland. Furthermore, the rule on client communication is otherwise very similar across the country, and unlikely to be one an attorney feels obligated to review before entering a jurisdiction.
Rule 1.4(c) provides a reminder of the importance in reviewing all rules related to practice in a jurisdiction, not just those related to procedure or those expected to be different. Few attorneys would guess that an insurance disclosure exists in any state, and it would not be surprising if most Pennsylvania attorneys were unaware of their own rules. An unknowing attorney who fails to abide by Rule 1.4(c) could thus find himself in twice as much trouble should a malpractice suit arise, with both civil liability and professional discipline possible. Attorneys in all states should take the time to dust off the rules of professional conduct for the jurisdictions in which they practice and make sure they haven’t overlooked any similar rules that may not exist in other jurisdictions or the model rules.