We often ask, "Who is the client?" Sometimes we have to ask, "Who is the lawyer?" Below are the Issue and Digest of the new ethics opinion from the State Bar of California's ethics committee ("COPRAC").
Issue: Upon the dissolution of a law firm, what duties does an attorney affiliated with the firm owe to a client on whose behalf he or she provided legal services if the attorney no longer will be representing the client following the dissolution? How does the fulfillment of those duties differ if the attorney had no connection with or knowledge of the client prior to dissolution of the firm? Do the steps an attorney may be required to take depend on the nature of the attorney’s position with the firm?
Digest: Rule 3-700(A)(2) of the California Rules of Professional Conduct, provides that a member may not withdraw from the representation of a client until the member has taken reasonable steps to avoid reasonably foreseeable prejudice to the rights of the client. The requirements of rule 3-700(A)(2) apply when an attorney’s withdrawal is prompted by the dissolution of the attorney’s law firm. In the event of dissolution, all attorneys who are employed by or partners of a firm are required to comply with rule 3-700(A)(2) as to all clients of the firm, regardless of their connection to any specific client or the specific nature of their affiliation with the firm. What “reasonable steps” an attorney must take to protect a particular client’s rights may vary considerably, however, depending on the circumstances, including the attorney’s relationship to the client and its matter and the attorney’s position within the firm.