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California Lawyers May Soon Be Required to Report Professional Misconduct: New Ethics Rule

published May 22, 2023

By Author - LawCrossing

( 6 votes, average: 4 out of 5)

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California Lawyers May Soon Be Required to Report Professional Misconduct: New Ethics Rule

California Lawyers Facing New Reporting Rule for Professional Misconduct


A new ethics rule may soon be implemented in California, requiring lawyers to report instances of professional misconduct committed by their peers and colleagues, aligning the state with the reporting standards of other states. The board of trustees of the State Bar of California voted in favor of this rule, which mandates reporting fraud, misappropriation of funds, and other criminal acts or behavior that negatively reflect fellow attorneys' honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness.

Overview of the Proposed 'Snitch Rule' Requiring Lawyer Reporting in California

The board has recommended this new rule, often called the "snitch rule," to the California Supreme Court for final approval. This change is part of a series of measures undertaken by the state bar to enhance lawyer oversight in the aftermath of the Tom Girardi scandal. Girardi, the founder of the now-defunct law firm Girardi Keese, has faced 205 attorney ethics complaints since 1982, with more than half accusing him of mishandling client funds, according to an investigation by the state bar.

Despite the numerous complaints, Girardi maintained his license to practice until June of the previous year. Federal prosecutors subsequently charged him for allegedly embezzling over $18 million belonging to his firm's clients. Girardi has pleaded not guilty, and his legal team has claimed he is not fit to stand trial due to Alzheimer's disease.

California State Bar's Efforts to Enhance Lawyer Oversight in the Wake of the Tom Girardi Scandal

Since California has the highest number of lawyers compared to other states, approximately 200 individuals submitted comments expressing opposition to the rule. Some argue that implementing this rule would overwhelm the state bar's disciplinary system with many complaints and potentially hinder the lawyer-client relationship.

The reception of the proposed change was largely favorable among non-attorneys who submitted comments, as they believed the rule would serve as a deterrent for misconduct and recognized that fellow lawyers are better equipped to identify potential misconduct.

Debates and Perspectives: Opposing Views on the Mandatory Reporting Rule for Attorneys in California

The board of trustees of the state bar considered two versions of the new rule, one with a broader definition of lawyer misconduct that necessitates reporting. However, the board failed to reach a consensus on which version to endorse and decided to present both versions to the court for the justices to make the final decision.

The potential consequences for violating the rule range from private reproval to a three-year suspension.

According to the potential new rule, lawyers should possess actual knowledge and credible evidence of the misconduct they report. Exceptions are provided for reporting information obtained through substance use or mental health programs and information protected by confidentiality or privilege.

The push for this change stems from the pressure exerted by state lawmakers. State Senator Tom Umberg introduced a bill in December to establish a similar rule mandating the reporting of attorney misconduct.
( 6 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
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