Attorney Ethics Anyone?

In the article below, I discussed some interesting (I hope) developments in the rules governing attorney ethics in New Jersey. I also provided links to other ethics resources at the end of the article.

Bona Fide Office Rule:

Under New Jersey’s “bona fide office rule”, lawyers must have an office where confidential information can be kept securely, where face-to-face discussions with clients are private and where someone can make sure the attorney is “reachable by telephone or e-mail during the occasional absences.” The rule arose decades ago to protect New Jersey attorneys against competition from lawyers from New York and Philadelphia by making it much more expensive for out-of-state lawyers to practice law in New Jersey.

Most states have abandoned the bona fide office rule. New Jersey has not. In fact, It appears that the rule has been strengthened. In a joint decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court‘s Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics (Op. 718) and the Advisory Committee on Attorney Advertising (Op. 41), the committees held that a so-called virtual office does not qualify as a bona fide office for purposes of N.J. Court Rule 1:21-1(a). (A virtual office, the opinion said, refers to a type of time-share arrangement whereby one leases space in an office building on an hourly or daily basis. The office is staffed by receptionists who provide answering services and the attorney sees clients by appointment only. The opinions are likely to reinforce New Jersey’s reputation as a state that changes its ethics rules slowly to accommodate social and economic change.

Out-Of-State Attorneys; Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR):

Under current Rule of Profession Conduct 5.5, an out-of-state attorney is not permitted to represent a New Jersey client in connection with a New Jersey dispute. In a report prepared by the Professional Responsibility Rules Committee (PRRC), the PRRC proposed an amendment to RPC 5.5 which would allow out-of-state lawyers to practice occasionally in New Jersey in particular matters if they associate with a New Jersey lawyer who would be responsible (though would not necessarily actively participate). The New Jersey Supreme Court is mulling over the recommendation. The Court has also postponed decision on a PRRC recommendation to exempt lawyers engaged in ADR from registering with the state bar and paying assessments.

Attorney Advertising:

Also still pending is a proposed new Advertising Guideline that would prohibit an attorney or law firm from including, on a website or other advertisement, ―a quotation from a judge or court opinion (oral or written) regarding the attorney‘s abilities or legal services. The New Jersey Supreme Court‘s Committee on Attorney Advertising proposed the new Guideline after reviewing an attorney‘s website that included two quotations from unpublished opinions on fee petitions in which judges praised the attorney‘s legal abilities.

Last year, the New Jersey Supreme Court changed the ethics rules to allow lawyers, for the first time, to mention their inclusion in Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers in America, the Martindale-Hubbell rankings or other rating services in advertisements and other promotional materials distributed to the public.

Mandatory Continuing Legal Education:

Last year, the New Jersey Supreme Court announced that mandatory continuing legal education will be required for all lawyers admitted to practice law in New Jersey starting in 2010. Under the new mandate, attorneys licensed in New Jersey, including judges, law school professors and in-house counsel, are required to take 24 hours of continuing legal education every two years, including 4 hours of ethics credits.

Ethics and Professional Responsibility Resources

New Jersey

American Bar Association

Section of Dispute Resolution

Section of Family Law

Section of Litigation

Section of Real Property, Probate, and Trust Law