ABA addressing policies governing the use of technology and ranking/rating services.Whether it is because of client demand, technology-based communications or increased global competition, the pace of the practice of law has never been faster. This pace and the consequential changes in the ways that law firms are providing legal services has created an unparalleled challenge to the organized bar. While there is an inherent conflict between the pace at which some law firms are willing to adapt and the bar's deliberate nature when determining policies, this conflict does not excuse the bar from its obligation to examine and change ethics rules and other policy issues on a frequent basis.
Last year, ABA President Carolyn B. Lamm created the ABA Commission on ethics 20/20. The original charge of the Commission was to review the ethics rules and lawyer regulation in the context of advances in technology and global practice developments. Since its creation, the Commission's mission has expanded somewhat. The Commission has created a series of working groups, addressing topics ranging from outsourcing to third-party financing of legal services. The two working groups that are most likely to be involved in issues pertaining to law firm marketing and sales are those addressing the implications of new technologies and law firm rankings and ratings.
Rankings and ratings were not originally on the Commission's radar screen. However, the ABA House of Delegates passed a recommendation at its Midyear Meeting in February calling on the Association to examine law firm rankings underway by US News and World Report. As a result, the Commission created a working group specifically on this topic.
Although different topics will develop at different paces, the ethics 20/20 initiative is designed to span a three-year timeframe. The first year focuses on research, outreach and analysis of information. So far, the Commission has selected reporters, issued invitations for contributions, conducted the first of a series of public hearings and set a schedule of subsequent hearings and roundtables. The second year will involve the development and circulation of proposed policies and, if merited, proposed changes to the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The third year will focus on the adoption of recommended changes.
The Commission's endeavors are transparent. Information about its upcoming events, including public hearings are reported on its Web site, at www.abanet.org/ethics2020/chairs.html. The site also includes archived materials from written submissions and hearing presentations. In addition to the Web site, the Commission created a listserv that is open to anyone who is interested in signing up.
LMA made an initial submission to the Commission calling for specific changes to the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The working groups will consider this issue will be among many others. While LMA will continue to represent the interests of its members through its involvement, the work of the Commission also gives individual lawyers, law firms and marketers the opportunity to weigh in on those matters that need to come before the organized bar. So, speak up or forever hold your peace, or at least until the next opportunity.
Will Hornsby is staff counsel in the ABA Division for Legal Services. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Between 1990 and 2002, he served as staff counsel to the ABA Commission on Advertising. The opinions in this article are solely those of the author. Nothing in this article should be construed as the policies of the ABA or any of its constituent entities.