California is an outlier no more–at least when it comes to its ethics rules.
On May 10, 2018, the California Supreme Court issued an order approving the adoption of a new set of Rules of Professional Conduct patterned after the ABA Model Rules, which were first published in 1983. The court’s ruling means that California will finally be joining the other 49 states, all of which have adopted ethics rules patterned after the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct.
According to the State Bar of California (here), the new ethics rules will take effect on November 1, 2018. The California Supreme Court Order includes a detailed discussion and commentary regarding the Golden State’s new ethics rules.
The new California rules are by no means a verbatim copy of the ABA Model Rules. For example, the new rules do not adopt ABA Model Rule 1.14, which relates to the duties of counsel representing clients with diminished capacity. There are other nuances as well in California’s new rules compared with the ABA template, and California lawyers (or those bound by its ethics rules) will need to study up on those differences.
The effort to get California aligned with the rest of the country was substantial, according to both published reports and as confirmed by California ethics experts who announced this development in a private forum for members of the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers (APRL), a bar association whose members focus on legal ethics and related matters.
An article published in April 2017 by the ABA/BNA Lawyers’ Manual on Professional Conduct outlines the history of “California’s multiyear initiative to update its standards governing lawyer conduct” along the lines of the ABA Model Rules templates. David Carr also has a nice discussion of the evolution of California’s ethics rules in his article published by the San Diego County Bar Association.
The rules change should benefit lawyers who engage in multi-jurisdictional practice that includes California. Greater uniformity should improve compliance for those practitioners who, to date, have had to look to multiple sources to gain a comprehensive understanding of California’s ethics rules.