State Bar of Texas Blog

ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20

At its October 2011 meeting in Denver, Colorado, the Commission decided to bifurcate its presentation of proposals to the ABA House of Delegates to help facilitate that entity's considered action on a significant number of complex and diverse subjects. The Commission will present its first group of proposals in August 2012, and the second set in February 2013. The Commission currently plans to present its proposals relating to mobility issues, outsourcing, and technology in August 2012. The Commission will circulate one more time for comment the drafts of those proposals before it files them with the House of Delegates for consideration in August 2012.  It will do so after discussing at its February 2 - 3, 2012 meeting the recent comments and suggestions received, and after making any necessary revisions to the proposals based upon those comments. The Commission will hold a public hearing in at its February meeting. Details are forthcoming.

The remaining proposals, including those relating to Model Rule 1.7, inbound foreign lawyers, and, if the Commission decides to do so, any proposals relating to alternative law practice structures, will be presented in February 2013. 

On Dec. 2, consistent with the Commission's promise to provide opportunities for input, it published for comment a Cover Memo and Discussion Draft relating to alternative law practice structures. The Commission already has ruled out certain forms of nonlawyer ownership that currently exist in other countries. In particular, the Commission rejected: (a) publicly traded law firms, (b) outside nonlawyer investment or ownership in law firms, and (c) multidisciplinary practices (law firms that offer both legal and non-legal services separately in a single entity). This Discussion Draft relates to a very limited form of nonlawyer ownership in a law firm akin to, but more restrictive than, that which has been permitted for 21 years in the District of Columbia. Before deciding how to proceed, the Commission wants to receive your comments and review any supporting materials you may wish to offer.

The Commission also posted for comment a Cover Memo and Initial Draft Proposal relating to choice of law and alternative law practice structures. Choice of law issues will exist whether or not the Commission ultimately decides to propose any modification to the current prohibition in Model Rule 5.4 on any form of alternative law practice structure. The Commission has heard that lawyers and law firms would benefit from additional guidance in this regard, particularly given the proliferation of domestic and international cross-border practice and the fact that more countries where U.S. lawyers and law firms do business now permit alternative law practice structures (as does the District of Columbia).

The Commission encourages responses to the Discussion Draft and the Initial Draft Proposal by late January 2012, so that they can be discussed at the Commission's February 2-3, 2012 meeting, and further asks that those requiring additional time submit their comments by February 29, 2012.

The documents can be downloaded here [website].

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