Members get chance to chime in on ethics

The debate on what constitutes an ethical, professional lawyer has probably been going on since there was more than one lawyer. However, this debate has taken on a new urgency as lawyers everywhere are coping with rapid changes in the profession and in society. This month, California Bar Journal introduces a periodic column dealing with contemporary ethical issues in the legal community.

"Hypothethics" is an attempt to move this debate beyond discussions by one or two lawyers at a time, to a discussion by the entire bar membership. The hypothetical situation that will be presented will not necessarily be solved by involving the Rules of Professional Conduct or referencing the State Bar Act.

After all, we all know it is unethical (not to mention illegal) to steal. Padding expense accounts with personal expenditures is unethical.

But is it unethical to charge one client for travel time while also charging another client for the work being done on travel time? Or is it unethical to charge a client for travel time and not do any other work, when work could have been done for that client or another one?

Here is this month's hypothetical situation:

What would you do?

Lawyer L's firm represents a real estate developer whose most recent project has been opposed by a community group concerned about increased traffic and crime in their neighborhood. The community group has brought an action for injunctive relief against the real estate developer. The leader of this opposition is a highly respected Religious Leader (RL) well-known for publicly espousing family values and the sanctity of marriage.

While preparing to depose RL, Lawyer L has discovered RL is having an extramarital affair, possibly one of many. Lawyer L believes that RL would do just about anything to avoid disclosure.

Would it matter how the information about RL was acquired?

Should Lawyer L's personal feelings about RL matter? Suppose Lawyer L generally supports the work RL has done in the community?

Please limit your response to 200 words or less and send by:

FAX: 213/765-1611
E-MAIL: sbcocr@ix.netcom.com
MAIL: Office of Client Relations, State Bar of California, 1149 S. Hill St., Los Angeles, CA, 90015-2299