Monday, March 13, 2017

D.C. On Breakup Ethics

A new opinion of the District of Columbia Bar Legal Ethics Committee is summarized in the headnote

Numerous ethical obligations attach to both a law firm and its members in connection with the process of the dissolution of the firm. These obligations include, without limitation, the obligation to continue to competently, zealously and diligently represent and communicate with clients during the dissolution process; the obligation of the members of the firm, after consultation, to notify clients of the dissolution and provide clients with options under such notice; the obligation to facilitate the choice of new counsel by clients of the dissolving firm; and, the obligation to properly dispose of client files, funds and other property. As used in this Opinion, the term "dissolution" means the process of terminating the law firm's existence as a legal entity. Since dissolution of a law firm is a process and not a single event, the term is not limited to the legal or technical action which is required to terminate the existence of the firm as a legal entity under corporate, partnership, bankruptcy or other applicable law. Certain ethical obligations may apply at various points during the dissolution process itself and other ethical obligations may continue to apply after the firm has been dissolved. These ethical obligations may attach either when dissolution of the firm has been agreed to by its members or, absent such agreement, is nonetheless reasonably foreseeable. This Opinion does not address the departure of members of the firm in and of itself, even in significant numbers, absent an expectation that the firm itself will at some reasonably foreseeable time in the future be dissolved. 

The committee concludes

A lawyer has numerous ethical obligations in connection with the dissolution of his law practice or a law firm of which he is a member. A lawyer must consider the obligations to continue to diligently represent and communicate with clients during the dissolution period, to notify clients of the dissolution, to facilitate the clients' choice of counsel, and to properly dispose of client files, funds or other property. There are additional considerations for the dissolution of Rule 5.4(b) firms and solo practices.

D.C. Rule 5.4(b) permits association with non-lawyers 

(b) A lawyer may practice law in a partnership or other form of organization in which a financial interest is held or managerial authority is exercised by an individual nonlawyer who performs professional services which assist the organization in providing legal services to clients [subject to enumerated conditions].

 (Mike Frisch)

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