The Big Picture: Our galaxy appears to be headed
towards the unknown Great Attractor behind the constellation Hydra at over 1.3
million miles per hour. Thats fast!
Little Picture: Our legal profession appears to be headed towards the Great
Attractor (the Big 5 accounting firms) faster than the speed of reason.
Earth is a speck flying through space. Our species is a recent
development. Our legal profession is more recent still. In America, our profession is not
steeped in rich, unbending tradition, because in reality, it has not been around that
long. In California, our State Bar, California Code of Professional Conduct and
unauthorized practice of law statutes are all less than 100 years old. Our oldest
professional responsibility rules, current Bus. & Prof. Code §6068, subsections
(a)-(h), were enacted in 1872 (these sections can be traced back to the Geneva Oath).
My small points here are that the practice of law, the legal
profession and rules of professional conduct are all of relatively recent origin, and that
they continue to evolve rapidly.
Today, the professions so-called traditional core
values are being challenged as never before. For example, the ABA is currently
studying multidisciplinary practices in which lawyers and nonlawyers would be
permitted to form partnerships to practice law and to share legal fees. At the same time,
the ABA Ethics 2000 Commission is in the midst of a major revision to the ABA Model Rules
of Professional Conduct. Core values are being modified. Current rule amendment drafts
would significantly loosen the duty to maintain confidential client information, thereby
affording less client protection.
In California, our professional rules have been amended substantially
over the past decade and can be expected to be amended again. Regard-ing recent California
practice developments, consider new Califor-nia web site FreeAdvice.com, which attempts to
provide general legal assistance to consumers without engaging in the unauthorized
practice of law. Consider the inroads into legal practice being made by the big accounting
firms in California.
As we move into the next millennium, the legal profession should keep
perspective as it considers the lawyers role in modern society. What is a
lawyers purpose today? Is this purpose consistent with our traditional core values
of independent professional judgment, conflict-free representation and maintenance of
client confidence and secrets? Remember, these core values are of relatively recent
vintage themselves. Are they worth holding on to in the modern world? Can they be
harmonized with evolving practice, with evolving technology? What happens to our
adversarial system of justice if they are weakened or lost?
The recent evolution of legal practice and legal ethics has much to
do with lawyers wanting to provide more efficient and complete service to consumers, to be
more relevant and useful. These are laudable objectives. But I also sense that the current
evolution is about lawyers striving as business people, want-ing to make more money,
wanting to compete with other professionals, including accountants, for power and status.
Should our professional core values be relaxed to accommodate these objectives?
In the big picture, we are just beginning to develop our profession
of law. Although change is inevitable, the direction of change is not. I believe that each
of us, as lawyers, has the power and the responsibility to affect the professions
direction of change by speaking out for what we believe in what our legal practice
and professional values should be.
I, for one, fear that if we jettison our core values too quickly,
without substantial thought, we may become a profession lost in space.
Ethics expert David M.M.
Bell, now in private practice, may be reached at email@example.com.