Large International Law Firms Seeking Own Ethics Rules

A group of general counsel at some the nation’s largest law firms have made a proposal to the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20, which is reviewing the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct in light of recent changes in technology and global commerce. The large firms are proposing a separate regulatory regime for “sophisticated clients” by arguing that the current rules are designed primarily to protect individual consumers of legal services and can differ significantly from state to state. 

From the proposal:  

we believe that current regulatory structures do not well serve the needs of large, multi-jurisdictional law firms that are the key providers of legal services to such major businesses.   The problem arises in large part because there is no single, uniform set of rules of professional conduct across the entire country. Instead, each state regulates lawyers independently, in many cases with conflicting and inconsistent results. Moreover, the rules imposed by the several states are primarily designed to protect individual consumers of legal services who may lack the experience or sophistication to protect themselves against unethical or otherwise improper conduct by the lawyers who represent them. While such rules may be perfectly sensible when dealing with such unsophisticated clients, the strictures and presumptions they impose do not work well when applied to relationships between large commercial enterprises and their outside counsel. Indeed, the effects of such application is to drive up the cost of legal services for such clients and, in some cases, to restrict the ability of clients to select the counsel of their choice.

Noting that consumer-oriented ethics rules present special issues for multi-national firms and clients, especially in areas like conflicts of interest, the proposal notes: . . .

large business enterprises – most of which have in-house law departments or other ready access to independent legal advice – are more than capable of understanding and protecting their own interests in dealings with outside counsel. As such, they should be free to reach binding agreements with their outside lawyers that serve their respective needs, even if some of the terms of those agreements may be inappropriate for individual or other clients who are less experienced in dealing with lawyers or legal matters.

Are we on the verge of having two sets of ethics rules? Stay tuned.

Posted: 5/17/2011 10:36:03 AM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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