Which amendment to the rules of conduct is causing a stir in California?

Over the last two years, a commission of the State Bar of California, the largest state bar in the nation, has been working diligently on an overhaul of existing ethics rules in order to better "promote trust and confidence in the legal profession, and the administration of justice."

Specifically, the ethics commission has proposed 68 new and amended rules of conduct for attorneys in the Golden State covering everything from dividing fees for referred clients and representing intellectually challenged clients to advertising and engaging in sexual relationships with clients.

Interestingly enough, this issue of sexual relationships with clients, which is being reconsidered for the first time in nearly 30 years, is causing the most consternation in the state's legal community.

Under the current rule, California attorneys are permitted to engage in sexual conduct with clients provided he or she does not "employ coercion, intimidation, or undue influence," or "perform legal services incompetently" because of the relationship.

The new rule, however, would do away with this language entirely and institute a total ban on sexual conduct with clients unless the relationship in question existed prior to any representation or the representation is being provided to a spouse.

Many attorneys are arguing that a move to ban sexual relationships with clients is wholly unnecessary and intrudes in the otherwise private affairs of consenting adults.

For their part, the ethics commission has said its proposal is based on a model rule drafted by the American Bar Association and in line with the approach taken in the majority of U.S. jurisdictions. Furthermore, supporters argue that a rule change will make it easier for the Bar to investigate complaints of misconduct and, if necessary, mete out the necessary punishment.

The ethics commission has until March to present its proposed rules to the California Supreme Court, which must then grant its approval.

Stay tuned for updates …

In our next post, we'll examine what the law here in Florida has to say concerning sexual relationships between attorneys and clients. In the meantime, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional if you have concerns about legal malpractice.

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