by Alison Buchanan
2015 Chair, SCCBA Professionalism Committee
Shareholder, Hoge Fenton Jones & Appel
The Santa Clara County Bar Association’s Professionalism Committee is charged with overseeing the SCCBA’s Center for Ethics & Professionalism, maintaining the SCCBA’s Code of Professionalism, reviewing and commenting on proposed State Bar formal ethics opinions, maintaining the Professionalism Forum & Blog, developing continuing legal education programs for civility and professionalism, and interacting with the local bench to ensure and improve civility and professionalism in the courtroom. The Committee does important work and touches on issues that impact every area of practice.
As the 2015 Chair of the Professionalism Committee for the Santa Clara County Bar Association, I am pleased to report that the Professionalism Committee has had a productive year thus far. We have undertaken several significant projects, and have also identified a few new exciting projects for the future. They include:
- Revisions to the SCCBA’s Code of Professionalism: For many years, the SCCBA’s Code of Professionalism has provided guidance to our county’s lawyers and judges and has served as a model for many other courts and jurisdictions. The SCCBA last updated the Code of Professionalism in 2007. In anticipation of republishing the Code, it is time for us to evaluate whether any revisions are warranted. Members of the Professionalism Committee and the bench, including Judges Julie Emede, Judge James Towery, Judge Brian Walsh, Lori Pegg, and former SCCBA President Clark Stone, have graciously agreed to review the Code of Professionalism for possible updates, and to ensure that the Code still reflects our legal community’s collective attitudes and values. The Committee invites and encourages SCCBA members to submit comments and proposed revisions to the Code.
- State Bar’s Professional Rules Revision Commission: The Professionalism Committee is following closely (and will provide feedback regarding) the work and progress of the State Bar’s Second Commission for the Revision of the Rules of Professional Conduct. As you know, last summer the California Supreme Court returned the prior Rules Revision Commission’s final package of sixty-seven revised rules, essentially abandoning the package of proposed revised rules. The Supreme Court instructed that the revised rules set minimum disciplinary standards only, and not include aspirational considerations. The Supreme Court directed that a Second Commission be appointed and that the Second Commission complete its work by March 2017. The State Bar’s website includes helpful information regarding public participation it the rules revision process and, specifically, the State Bar encourages members to interact with the Second Commission for the Revision of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
- Should SCCBA Issue Formal Ethics Opinions?: Less than a handful of county bar associations in California publish formal ethics opinions. The SCCBA is not one of them, but should we be? In the coming months, the SCCBA’s Professionalism Committee will appoint a small task force to evaluate the following questions: (1) should the SCCBA publish formal ethics opinions?; and (2) if so, what should that look like, logistically? We are interested in your comments and feedback on this issue, so please feel free to communicate your thoughts to the SCCBA.
In addition, the State Bar’s Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct (COPRAC) has issued two tentatively approved formal ethics opinions for the 90-day public comment period. First, COPRAC has tentatively approved Proposed Formal Opinion Interim No. 13-0005 for a 90-day public comment distribution. The Opinion considers what duty a lawyer owes to current and former clients to refrain from disclosing potentially embarrassing or detrimental information about the client, including publicly available information the lawyer learned during the representation or relating to the representation. The public comment period expires August 27, 2015, at 5:00 p.m. Second, in June, COPRAC tentatively approved Proposed Formal Opinion Interim No. 12‑0007 for a 90-day public comment distribution. This Opinion considers the ethical limitations on the statements the attorney may make to third parties when an attorney is engaged in negotiations on behalf of a client (including statements that may be considered “puffing” or posturing). The public comment period expires September23, 2015, at 5:00 p.m. For more information about these Opinions and how to submit comments, go to the State Bar’s public comments page.
This is just a small sampling of what the Professionalism Committee has been working on this year. Hopefully, these items pique your interest and bolster your enthusiasm for the Committee’s work. There are many ways you can ensure we maintain those high standards of professionalism for which our legal community known. If you are interested in joining the Professionalism Committee, or if you are interested in any of the projects we are working on, please feel free to reach out to us.