South Carolina Lawyer
Vol. 13, No. 5, Pg. 34.
Preventative maintenance: a 14-point ethics inspection
34Preventative maintenance: a 14-point ethics inspectionBy Jill C. RothsteinMembers of the South Carolina Bar received a wake-up call from the Supreme Court in August when In re Anonymous Member of the SC Bar was released. The Court made a point to remind Bar members of the responsibilities to our clients and to one another. There continues to be a great deal of discussion in the wake of that opinion, including a roundtable discussion moderated by Professor Robert Wilcox, available from the South Carolina Bar Seminars Direct program. While the opinion is in two distinct parts, one pertaining to the duty to supervise and one regarding etiquette at deposition, the focus of this article is intended to be the practical application of the Court's direction regarding the duty to supervise. While questions of ethics ultimately come down to a case-by-case basis, included here are some guidelines regarding some of the most common issues, based upon opinions of practicing attorneys participating in the roundtable discussion.
36Avoid trouble on the front end.
The Court indicated it expects members of the Bar to provide mentoring, especially in the area of litigation, in order to prevent ethical violations "rather than relying entirely on the disciplinary process" to discipline lawyers after the conduct occurs.
Read the instruction manual.
Rule 5.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct imposes a duty on every partner to ensure that rules of conduct are met. Rather than assuming that all new attorneys are learning everything they need to know in law school, supervisory procedures should be put in place to make certain that all new attorneys are given a safety net. Even better - provide a basic substantive ethics review upon their entry into the firm. Make sure they know about conflicts and how to do a thorough conflicts check, how to be forthcoming in discovery and how to act in litigation.
Know how to merge.
The surviving or new firm should have procedures in place to make sure everyone understands what their obligations are. Mergers can create significant conflict issues, and the prudent management of the new firm will include anticipation of the issues that will arise and how to ethically address them.
Share the wealth.