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Cal Bar Looks At Non-Lawyer Ownership of Legal Services

"Follow the money" is a catchphrase in journalism and elsewhere, and it can apply to non-lawyers owning legal services.

In California, the State Bar commissioned a study into the subject. It wanted to know whether to change ethics rules that forbid non-lawyers from owning legal service companies.

The report suggests it's about time to open the doors because, among other reasons, fewer people are hiring lawyers.

New Ethics Rules: What's Changing, What's Interesting?

Somewhere in the Bible or the movies, there are Seven Deadly Sins -- not 70.

But that's how many new ethics rules will be imposed on California lawyers this year. Technically, it's only 69 but that would make the first sentence really wrong.

Actually, it would have been 70 but the state Supreme Court rejected one. It means attorneys can get away with at least one thing.

If you're a California lawyer with a stand-alone blog, you can probably keep blogging without worrying that your posts are violating rules on attorney advertising. That's because the State Bar of California's ethics committee recently finalized an ethics opinion holding that many common forms of attorney blogging don't count as communications subject to attorney advertising rules.

There are some important caveats, however, especially regarding blogs on your firm website. Here's what you need to know.

We all know you can't reveal confidential client information, even long after your attorney-client relationship has ended. But confidential info isn't the only client secret you must maintain. Sharing even public, embarrassing client information can be an ethics violation, according to a recent formal ethics opinion issued by the California Bar.

So think twice before sharing that blog post about a former client's messy divorce, or bragging about how you got a client off easy; you might be violating your duty of confidentiality.

Bill Seeking to Overhaul Cal. State Bar Dies in Legislature

Assembly Bill 2878, the proposed law that would have fundamentally changed the makeup of the California State Bar's board of trustees by doing away with elected reps and membership dues, died on the floor of the California legislature. This despite many vocal critics of the state bar's exposed shortcomings and lack of transparency.

It is difficult to tell whether or not the bill was blocked because of broad-based unpopular sentiment or if it was blocked because the proposed changes didn't go far enough.

Attorney-Client Privilege Is Sacred, Even When Used for Abuse

The attorney-client privilege is one of the most closely guarded layman-professional relationships, but California takes it to a whole new level. It even has codified the attorney-client privilege (unlike other states which rely on rules derived from the ABA rules) in Cal. Evid. Code section 900 et seq.

It turns out that even when privilege has been used for abuse, California jurisdiction is highly unwilling to question the practice. In the case of Dp Pham, LLC v. Cheadle, a prima facie showing of privilege turned out to be one heck of a shield against disclosure.

SEC Filing Is Not a Public Disclosure, California Court Rules

A California Court of Appeals has ruled rather controversially that federal filings with the SEC do not amount to "public disclosure" for purposes of qui tam relator suits under California's False Claims Act ("CFCA"). This is the case of State ex rel. Bartlett v. Miller, decided on January 19th.

How could this possibly be the ruling? CFCA cases based on public information, said the three judge panel for California's Second Appellate District, are triggered only when such disclosure is through channels explicitly accounted for in the state statute, a mechanism known as the "public disclosure bar."

The California State Bar Board of Trustees announced in December that it would be appointing Jayne Kim to a second four-year term as chief trial counsel, the state bar's top prosecutor position. The chief trial counsel is responsible for investigating and prosecuting attorneys for professional misconduct, overseeing more than 200 employees and a $40 million budget.

But Kim is a contentious choice for reappointment, after employees in the Office of Chief Trial Counsel overwhelmingly voted "no confidence" in her leadership in October. Here's some background on Kim and the controversy behind her.

Right-To-Die Lawsuit Rejected by California Appeals Court

The Associated Press reported yesterday that a California appeals court rejected a lawsuit brought by Christy O'Donnell and two other terminally ill patients who sought to legalize the procedure for doctors to prescribe them fatal medication.

The court ruled that current law would criminalize physicians who helped patients commit suicide. The news comes as a blow to the patients in light of this month's signing of the California's physician-assisted suicide law. This is ironic because O'Donnell's face has become synonymous with California's freshly legalized right to drug-assisted suicide.

Ex-State Bar Exec Sues, Claiming Whistleblower Retaliation

November might not be the best month for the State Bar of California. If bar exam results go the same as every other state, we'll find out later this month that the July administration had the fewest passers in at least 10 years.

The good news for Joseph Dunn is that won't be his problem anymore. Dunn was abruptly fired from his job as executive director of the State Bar on November 7. Last week, we found out why, and the allegations are juicy and salacious.