Over the past 15 or so years, technological advances and globalization have changed the legal profession in ways not yet reflected in our legal ethics rules. Innovations such as the Internet, e-mail and more recently smart phones are changing the practice of law by making it easier to communicate throughout this nation and the world. These advances in communication are expanding opportunities for lawyers and their clients in ways never before imagined. In response to these changes both nationally and in the global marketplace, the American Bar Association has created the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 to study whether lawyer ethics rules should be updated. A few of the preliminary issues involved in the commission’s study include:
Social Networking by Lawyers and Law Firms – Lawyers and law firms are embracing social media in many forms. Many lawyers use blogs, Twitter feeds, social networking websites and other resources as marketing and communication devices. Thus, the commission is studying, among other things, whether the Model Rules and existing disciplinary enforcement mechanisms can adequately address this technological phenomenon. The commission’s review might necessarily include an assessment of whether lawyers should have a professional obligation to understand and to use new technologies and applications reasonably and in a way that will not compromise client service.
Legal Process Outsourcing – From solo practitioners to large law firms, the legal profession is increasingly embracing outsourcing to assist in providing legal services to clients. Such delegation of tasks to third parties, whether locally or offshore includes legal tasks such as research, drafting and document review, as well as certain non-legal tasks. The practice of outsourcing raises professional questions for lawyers including adherence to duties of competent representation of clients, maintaining confidentiality, charging clients proper fees and expenses, and supervision responsibilities of legal and non-legal tasks, among others.
Virtual law firms – Law practices conducted remotely or over the Internet are emerging with increased frequency. In theory, the lawyers who participate in such arrangements can meet their obligations of competence. Yet, the commission will undoubtedly study whether existing ethical and multijurisdictional practice rules adequately address this up-and-coming law practice paradigm.
Ohio lawyers should stay tuned to these developments, as such work by ABA commissions has been the impetus of many of the recent changes to our legal ethics rules.