Monday, July 30, 2012

Another Jurisdiction Adopts Ethical Screens reports new rule changes going into effect January 1, 2013 in Connecticut: "New Conn. Rule Will Ease Conflict-of-Interest Concerns When Lawyers Switch Firms."
  • "Connecticut's Practice Book is being amended to create a procedure that will allow the job-changing attorney to promise to stay away from a case without his whole new firm risking disqualification. Following a similar move implemented a few years ago by the American Bar Association, the amendment was recently approved by the Judges of the Superior Court, the Judicial Branch's rule-making body."
  • "Legal industry observers say it's likely to bring an added degree of comfort to large firms when making hiring decisions. That, in turn, could help employment mobility for lawyers in a tight job market. 'It's going to give some guidance, especially to some of these bigger firms that have been taking on lateral hires,' said Patricia King, chief disciplinary counsel for the Judicial Branch."
  • "The new Connecticut rule will codify that practice and theoretically avoid taking up court time with disqualification motions. As of January 1, the lawyer changing firms will provide written notice to a former client when the potential for conflict arises. In the notice, the client will be informed that the attorney has been screened from the matter and be assured that no information is being shared with or gained from that attorney."
Interestingly, the new rule contains language that implies notified parties may have the rights to verify compliance and investigate the specific measures taken by screening firms. George O'Brien Jr., head of Littler Mendelson's New Haven office, weighs in on those concerns:
  • "However, O'Brien is somewhat concerned over language in the amendment that states that a client has the right to 'ascertain' whether a former lawyer has complied with conflict-of-interest rules. O'Brien pondered whether a client might interpret that phrase to mean something that the rule makers didn't intend."
  • "'I trust that these [written notices offered by the lateral partner] will suffice to enable the former client to 'ascertain compliance,' O'Brien said. 'And that the rule will not be interpreted to allow the former client to root around in the firm's internal affairs, since that could be a source of mischief.'"

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