Ryan has previously waxed poetic about how some mandatory bars are imposing odd and counterproductive ethics rules and opinions.
This topic resurfaced for me recently as I have been asked to present to a futures committee of a mandatory bar in November. They are wanting me to give them a picture of all that is going on with pricing, legal project management and numerous other developments in the market.
This is an opportunity to share my thoughts in a neutral environment – where I can speak quite freely. I had been giving some thought to how to best utilize such an opportunity. My mind wandered through various subjects and how I can best educate them on the realities of this changing market. My mind then shifted to what can a bar do to help its members. A lot of this thinking was around how the bar can provide resources to help its members do better pricing and bring efficiencies to their practices.
And then it hit me: Those Stupid Rules.
Having previously worked for a mandatory bar, I have more knowledge than I care to on how ethics rules and opinions are generated. The core question at the base of every issues is “Could a client be harmed?” or some variation on that theme. On the surface this sounds perfectly reasonable, since protecting the public is part of a mandatory bar’s charge. In practice however, based on lawyers’ risk averse natures, this unit of measure is usually taken to an extreme.
Take for example Ryan’s target; the Texas Bar Ethics Opinion 642. I can predict how the discussion went around this issue. The core question was: Could a client mistake someone with an “officer” title working at a law firm to be a lawyer? At the extreme the answer is: Yes. Someone, somewhere could make that judgement. And if that’s the case, there is a concern that using those titles could be interpreted as holding oneself out as a lawyer. And we all know the danger in that. (For normal people out there, the danger is that someone might pay this ‘non-lawyer’ for legal advice.) Given that string of logic, it makes perfect sense to issue an ethics opinion prohibiting law firms from using that title.
Back in reality – this type of rule actually inhibits a law firm’s ability to better serve its clients. Professional CIOs, CFOs, CMOs and others bring an expertise that adds to the abilities of firms and lawyers to serve their clients. Inhibiting the ability of firms to attract such talent is running in the wrong direction.
The straw that pushed me over the edge (metaphor blender engaged) to write this post was visiting a law firm’s web site and seeing the words “This is an Advertisement” prominently displayed on their homepage. Of course they felt compelled to include this since some ethics rule requires it.
I know – I know. Someone, somewhere might confuse a website as legal advice. Right.
So … mandatory bars, here’s my top recommendation. Stop it with the stupid rules. They are not protecting clients. They are doing the exact opposite. Restrictions on advertising limit the information avilable to clients about the value and need for legal services. So in addition to asking “could a client be harmed” ask some follow up questions, like: Will these restrictions hurt clients? If clients are not aware of the value of estate planning, will they be harmed? Not only is the answer yes, but last check 50% of adults in the US do not have wills in place. Enough said.
1974 was 40 years ago. Try implementing some rules suited for today or better yet, tomorrow.
Rant Complete (for now).