Reasonable Fee for Law Clerk Cannot equal lawyers’ fees  | Legal Ethics in Motion

Attorney-Client Relationship | Legal Ethics in Motion by Professionl Responsibility and Ethics Program/ University of Miami Law School Las…

Source: OTHERWISE: Attorney-Client Relationship | Legal Ethics in Motion

Last month a Tampa attorney settled a case brought against her by the Florida Bar for, among other things, charging excessive fees. The Florida Bar’s complaint specifically stated that the attorney’s “hourly rate of $400 per hour for the services of law clerks was clearly excessive.” While the Florida Bar has brought claims against attorneys for unethical billing practices, it has generally avoided the question of law clerk fees. This case clarifies that, in the eyes of the Florida Bar, law clerks are non-lawyers and cannot be billed at the same rate as an attorney admitted to the state bar.

From the ABA Journal: “Opinion makes confidentiality exception for ‘generally known’ info”

Here are my thoughts on the new Formal Opinion 479 from the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility offering guidance about what constitutes “generally known” information under ABA Model Rule 1.9, as published in the March 2018 issue of the ABA Journal.

“I agree that this definition makes sense, though I don’t think it necessarily resolves what is generally known in every instance,” says Renee N. Knake, who teaches legal ethics at the University of Houston Law Center and recently co-wrote Professional Responsibility: A Contemporary Approach. “Inevitably gray areas will arise, but I do think that the opinion offers helpful guidance as to what may constitute ‘generally known.’ ”

She says questions remain as to what “minimum threshold of publications” are necessary to establish that the information is generally known.

“What about other sources, such as a public survey or opinion poll?” she says. Regarding wide recognition in the former client’s industry or profession, Knake asks whether it is “possible to rely as well on expert opinions.”

Further, “information that is publicly available is not necessarily generally known,” the opinion reads. “Certainly, if information is publicly available but requires specialized knowledge or expertise to locate, it is not generally known within the meaning of Model Rule 1.9(c)(1).”

“The opinion is striving to achieve a balance here,” Knake says. “Defining ‘generally known’ to include any public record would address the gray area problem, but it doesn’t sufficiently protect the sort of information contemplated under the umbrella of confidentiality afforded by Model Rule 1.9.”

Model Rule 1.9(c)(2) prohibits a lawyer from “revealing information about a former client,” Knake says. “The difference between ‘reveal’ versus ‘use’ is significant, and the lawyer may only use a public record that has otherwise been revealed by another source and spread widely.”

You can read the full article here:









District Court Creates Guide for Attorney-Client Privilege in the Corporate Context

Law students and lawyers alike often go down the rabbit hole when considering what is and is not attorney-client privilege communications in the corporate context. On February 23, 2018, Judge Michael M. Baylson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania released an order in SodexoMagic LLC v. Drexel University that sets out a set of hypotheticals for the parties to determine when privilege exists.  He comprised this set of hypotheticals after reviewing 50 documents in camera submitted by the parties as samples of disputed claims of privilege.

This court order is an extremely valuable resource for explaining privileged communications that can be withheld from production, and those that are not.  The challenged communications involved internal emails within the two corporations.  Some of the emails were between corporate counsel and employees of the corporation, and some were between others working with the corporate attorneys acting on their behalf.  When the corporate attorneys or their subordinates, such as paralegals, were providing legal advice, the privilege applied.  When the lawyers or their subordinates were “acting in a purely ‘scrivner-like’ role, their emails and documents (including draft agreements) are themselves not privileged communications.”  Judge Baylson then proceeds to analyze 13 of the emails and documents and explains which are and are not covered by attorney-client privilege.

This is a great order to review attorney-client privilege, and one that will make it into the next edition of Professional Responsibility: A Contemporary Approach!

 ABA Opinion warns against judges doing online research on facts related to cases

Source: OTHERWISE: ABA Opinion warns against judges doing online research on facts related to cases

by Raymond J. McKoski// ABA Journal

IFormal Opinion 478, the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility addresses the restrictions imposed by the 2007 ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct on a judge searching the internet for information helpful in deciding a case. The ABA opinion concludes that Rule 2.9(C) of the Model Code prohibits a judge from researching adjudicative facts on the internet unless a fact is subject to judicial notice.

Rule 2.9(C) clearly and definitively declares that “a judge shall not investigate facts in a matter independently, and shall consider only the evidence presented and any facts that may properly be judicially noticed.” Acknowledging the integral part that search engines play in everyday life, Comment 6 to Rule 2.9 bluntly tells judges that the prohibition “extends to information available in all mediums, including electronic.”

While recognizing that the internet, including social networking sites, provides immediate access to a limitless amount of information potentially useful to a judge laboring over difficult case-specific factual issues, the recent ABA opinion highlights two important justifications for the prohibition against electronic factual research.

First, information found on the web may be fleeting, biased, misleading and sometimes downright false. Second, unless the narrow judicial-notice exception applies, gathering even trustworthy information from the internet compromises the division of responsibility between the judge and the parties so essential to the proper functioning of the adversarial system. The committee emphasizes this point by describing the “defining feature” of the judicial role as a judge’s duty to base decisions only on evidence presented in court and available to the parties.

The limitations on independent factual research by judges are not solely a matter of judicial ethics. Rule 2.9(C) is one of the few provisions of the Model Code that integrates an evidentiary rule into an ethical standard. Rule 2.9(C) permits a judge to consider a fact from sources other than the evidence submitted by the parties as long as the judge abides by his or her jurisdiction’s requirements for taking judicial notice of the fact. Incorporating a rule of evidence into an ethical rule complicates the analysis because, as noted by the committee, judicial notice standards and procedures vary significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

To illustrate how Rule 2.9(C) and the doctrine of judicial notice interface, the committee examines Federal Rule of Evidence 201, which governs judicial notice. FRE 201(a) and (b) permit judicial notice of a fact that relates to the parties in a case (an adjudicative fact) only when that fact is “not subject to reasonable dispute” because it is (1) “generally known” or (2) “accurately and readily determined” from a source “whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” Even if a “fact” meets this rigorous test, the judge must provide the parties with an opportunity to contest the need to notice the fact and a chance to challenge the accuracy of the fact. Like most state rules governing judicial notice, the federal rule only bars judicial notice of adjudicatory facts. The doctrine does not restrict a judge’s independent research of legislative facts, such as statistical, sociological and economic studies, which differ from adjudicative facts in that they are not unique to the litigants but are facts that assist a judge in deciding questions of law or policy.

The committee offers four guidelines to help judges determine the ethical propriety of investigating facts on the internet. Because the guidelines are by necessity general in nature, the committee also provides hypothetical scenarios to illustrate their application.


Former Lawyer of Martin Shkreli Convicted of Fraud

In case you missed the news over the winter holidays, in late December 2017, Evan Greebel, who was outside counsel to Martin Shkreli’s former pharmaceutical company, Retrophin, was found guilty by a jury in Brooklyn of charges that he conspired to commit wire fraud and securities fraud.  In August 2017, a different jury found Shkreli guilty of defrauding hedge fund investors but cleared Shkreli of conspiring with Greebel to steal from Retrophin.  This conviction offers a stark reminder that lawyers cannot use their legal expertise to facilitate the commission of a crime or fraud.


The news story can be found here.

Trump’s Lawyer May Face Ethics Complaint Over Payment to Porn Star

Trump’s lawyer claims that he personally sent $130,000 to porn star, Stephanie Clifford, who states that she had an affair with President Trump prior to his election.  The lawyer, Michael Cohen, claims the payment was legal, but was it ethical?

A recent New York Times article discusses some of the potential ethics violations.  For example, Rule 1.8(e) of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct states:  “While representing a client in connection with contemplated or pending litigation, a lawyer shall not advance or guarantee financial assistance to the client . . . .”  So, if Ms. Clifford contemplating some type of litigation against Mr. Trump, then his payment for Mr. Trump’s benefit would trigger a violation of this ethics rule.

But what if Ms. Clifford was not threatening litigation but simply that she was going to make the affair public?  If the payment was to buy Ms. Clifford’s silence prior to the election, it could trigger a violation of Rule 1.8(a) if it was a loan and if Mr. Cohen did not have a written loan agreement with Mr. Trump.  If Mr. Cohen has a written loan agreement and followed other aspects of Rule 1.8(a), which include that the loan terms are fair and reasonable and that Mr. Trump was advised in writing about seeking out independent legal counsel on the matter, then Mr. Cohen would be in the clear on this front.

Assuming Mr. Cohen did not violate any provision of Rule 1.8, he could still be in hot water if he lied about the payment.  Mr. Cohen has said that “I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford.  Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly.”  Another New York Ethics Rule, Rule 8.4, prohibits a lawyer from “engag[ing] in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.” If any part of this explanation is a lie, for example someone else has repaid him on behalf of Mr. Trump, then that would be Mr. Cohen engaging in dishonesty, deceit or misrepresentation.

Finally, let’s say Mr. Cohen hasn’t lied, simply used his own money, has not been reimbursed, litigation was not be threatened, it wasn’t a loan, and it was simply a gift.  Mr. Cohen would seem to be in the clear ethically, but there may still be one nagging legal issue – did he file a Form 709 with the IRS?  The IRS requires that anyone making gifts totaling more than $14,000 to anyone other than your spouse usually must filed a Form 709.  The other types of gifts not subject to reporting to the IRS are donations to political organizations, transfers to some tax exempt organizations, and payments that qualify under educational or medical exclusions.

It will be interesting to see if and how we learn if Mr. Cohen is completely in the clear.