California Bar Journal
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Help us revise the rules of conduct
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Harry B. SondheimHelp wanted! The State Bar of California's Commission for the Revision of the Rules of Professional Conduct wants a few good men and women to provide, by written comment, suggestions for what changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct should be studied.

In addition to reviewing the current rules, multidisciplinary practice, multijurisdictional practice, discrete task representation and pro per assistance are some of the other topics to be considered by the commission. The State Bar reinstated the commission to conduct a comprehensive study of the rules and to recommend amendments.

The Rules of Professional Conduct are the State Bar's attorney disciplinary standards, the violation of which will subject an attorney to bar sanctions such as reproval, suspension or disbarment. By statute (Bus. & Prof. Code 6076), the bar is authorized to formulate rules of professional conduct that are submitted to the California Supreme Court for approval. The new study will enable the bar to review the results of the American Bar Association's revision of its Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The ABA's work to overhaul the Model Rules began in 1997 and likely will be completed by August. Although California is not bound by the model rules, the ABA's current effort is part of the commission's charge.

The commission was first established in the late 1980s when it conducted a cover-to-cover study of California's lawyer disciplinary rules which, at that time, had not been thoroughly revised since 1975. The result of the commission's work included a complete reorganization of rules with new chapters and numbering; the addition of official discussion commentary to the rules; and new rules on the sale of law practices, gifts from clients, organizations as clients and third-party fee payers. When the commission completed its work in 1991 it was not decommissioned; instead, it was put into deep freeze until another comprehensive study was needed. That time arrived last July when then-bar President Palmer Madden called for the commission's reinstatement. The decision was made in consultation with the Supreme Court, incoming State Bar President Karen Nobumoto and the board of governors.

The specific charge to the commission reveals the rationale for its reinstatement:

"The commission is to evaluate the existing California Rules of Professional Conduct in their entirety considering developments in the attorney professional responsibility field since the last comprehensive revision of the rules occurred in 1989 and 1992. In this regard, the commission is to consider, along with judicial and statutory developments, the Final Report and Recommendations of the ABA Ethics 2000 Commission, the American Law Institute's Restatement of the Law Third, The Law Governing Lawyers, as well as other authorities relevant to the development of professional responsibility standards. The commission is specifically charged to also consider the work that has occurred at the local, state and national level with respect to multidisciplinary practice, multijurisdictional practice, court facilitated propria persona assistance, discrete task representation and other subjects that have a substantial impact upon the development of professional responsibility standards."

To begin its study, the commission is seeking written comment from the public, consumers of legal services, members of the bar, the judiciary and any other interested person or group. We want input on what amendments to the Rules of Profes-sional Conduct warrant consideration and study. We welcome general comments discussing concepts for revision, including suggestions for new rules and rule deletions. The commission also welcomes comments identifying and discussing existing rules, if any, that should not be altered.

Comments should be sent to: Audrey Hollins, Professional Competence Unit, State Bar of California, 180 Howard Street, San Francisco, California, 94105-1639; Also, the commission's memo seeking written comment will be posted at the State Bar's official website, The full text of the current Rules of Professional Conduct also are online at that website.

For more information about the commission, contact staff counsel Randall Difuntorum at 415/538-2161.

Harry Sondheim is chair of the Commission for the Revision of Rules of Professional Conduct.