Wednesday, April 2, 2008
A recently installed judge had been a partner in a two-lawyer firm when appointed to the bench. He sought an ethics opinion on issues relating to his transition. The former partner has decided to discontinue the practice. As a result, the Committee on Judicial Ethics opines:
"a critical feature of your situation is that, given your resignation and your former partner's stated intention to discontinue the practice of law, your former firm is now in the process of winding down its business and closing. It remains open for the sole purpose of collecting outstanding fees. No new clients are being accepted and, presumably, no further legal work is being done for existing clients. This significantly reduces any possibility that the firm could gain an advantage of any kind from continued use of your name, and the possibility that the firm could convey, or be perceived as conveying, the impression that it is in a special position to influence you, or other judges, in execution of judicial duties. Having these ameliorating factors in mind, the committee believes that it would not violate the letter or spirit of the Code if you were to acquiesce in your former firm's continued use of your name for a short period while it winds down its affairs. Indeed, to require otherwise would put the firm to the unnecessary expense of changing the firm's name and purchasing new firm stationery and checks solely for the purpose of going out of business."
Further, the judge may share in fees collected in the course of closing the practice. The judge will not be billing the clients directly or managing the collection efforts. The fees at issue are fixed, not contingent and the judge may share in the fees that are collected. (Mike Frisch)