Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Ethics & People (Lawyers Lateraling, Staff Entitled)

A few interesting updates addressing the people side of the equation. First, we've had great fun messing with Texas and its ethics opinion that non-lawyer staff cannot have the word "officer" in their title. (As of yet, we have seen no CIO, CMO or COO take us up on any of our creative suggestions... The latest of which is replacing the word "officer" with "sheriff." And, to be fair, word is that Texas is reviewing this opinion. Or planning to.) Now comes the Philadelphia bar with an opinion that's a bit more on the loving side: "Ethics Panel Says Senior Nonlawyer Staffers May Be Designated as ‘Directors' or ‘Officers'" [opinion] --
  • "The committee expressed its disagreement with a controversial Texas ethics advisory that disapproved firms' use of such titles for nonlawyer employees."
  • "Echoing critics who convinced the Texas committee to reconsider its May 2014 opinion, the Philadelphia panel rejected the notion that state variants of ABA Model Rule 5.4—which disallows most forms of multidisciplinary partnerships between attorneys and other professionals—prohibit law firms from bestowing nonlawyers with titles such as Chief Information Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operations Officer, Director of Human Resources, Director of Facilities or Executive Director."
  • "'It is clear that a lawyer's independent professional judgment must not be compromised by allowing non-lawyers to be partners in, principals of or have ownership interests in law firms,' the opinion states. 'The Guidance Committee does not believe, however, that any use of the word ‘officer' or ‘director' in the title of a non-lawyer employee of a law firm is improper.'"
Next, the District of Columbia offers clarity for those on the hunt for pastures (of the greener variety, either literally or metaphorically): "DC Bar to Lawyers: It’s OK to Change Firms: Business of Law" --
  • "Non-competes are generally regarded as acceptable for most professionals -- except lawyers. Now an ethics opinion from the D.C. Bar, which oversees professional responsibility for lawyers practicing in the nation’s capital, has clarified that a law firm can’t try to limit a departing lawyer’s new practice."
  • "Ethics Opinion 368, published earlier this month, found that a 'law firm may not provide for or impose liquidated damages,' set before a departure is announced, on a lawyer who later competes with the firm. The decision also suggests that the former firm may not try to collect fees for work done after the lawyer leaves, even if the matter originated with the firm."
  • "A firm also cannot restrict a lawyer’s “subsequent professional association,” the D.C. Bar said, but a departing lawyer doesn’t 'have an unlimited right to solicit firm partners or employees' before departure."

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