Proposed Changes to R.P.C.

The Disciplinary Board has published proposed revisions to Rule 1.15 (Safekeeping Property) and Rule 221 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement, regarding handling of the property of others, as well as proposed changes to Rule 402 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement, dealing with the extent to which disciplinary proceedings are open to the public.

For attorney subscribers to my blog, you are most likely already aware of these proposed changes and the open comment period which expired March 1st on the first proposed change, and closes March 9th on the second. For non-attorney readers I thought I would provide some clarification about the Rules of Professional Conduct, as I am frequently questioned about it.

Sometimes legal administrators mistakenly believe the ABA Model Rules should be their only reference point in understanding the ethical obligations of their firm’s attorneys. That would be a mistake. The Pennsylvania rules, like most states’ comparable standards, are based on the Model Rules of Professional Conduct established by the American Bar Association. So while it’s true that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and the Disciplinary Board do not develop the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct entirely on their own, it is also the case that there are some significant differences between the Pennsylvania Rules and the ABA Model Rules.

It is important for lawyers and administrators to understand that as influential as the Model Rules of Professional Conduct are, the actual standards that govern the profession are found not in the Model Rules, but in the versions adopted by each state.

In Pennsylvania, for example, this difference is clearly evident in the provisions of Rule 1.15 regarding the handling of property. Model Rule 1.15 consists of only 316 words, but Pennsylvania’s Rule 1.15 as currently written contains 1,346 words, and there are additional substantive money handling requirements in Rule 221 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement. Clearly, a lawyer familiar only with the Model Rule would be seriously unprepared to handle client property subject the requirements of the Pennsylvania rule.

Familiarity with the provisions of the Model Rules will give the practicing lawyer a rough idea of what the expectations of lawyers everywhere are, but the lawyer who ventures beyond the borders of the jurisdiction in which he or she is licensed should bear in mind that the standards of conduct in effect elsewhere may be different in important respects from those of the lawyer’s home jurisdiction. Rule 8.5(b) of both the Model Rules and the Pennsylvania Rules states,

(b) Choice of Law. In any exercise of the disciplinary authority of this jurisdiction, the rules of professional conduct to be applied shall be as follows:

(1) for conduct in connection with a matter pending before a tribunal, the rules of the jurisdiction in which the tribunal sits, unless the rules of the tribunal provide otherwise; and

(2) for any other conduct, the rules of the jurisdiction in which the lawyer’s conduct occurred, or, if the predominant effect of the conduct is in a different jurisdiction, the rules of that jurisdiction shall be applied to the conduct. A lawyer shall not be subject to discipline if the lawyer’s conduct conforms to the rules of a jurisdiction in which the lawyer reasonably believes the predominant effect of the lawyer’s conduct will occur.

If you want to stay well informed about the PA Rules of Professional Conduct and any proposed changes, you may want to subscribe to the e-newsletter published by The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, from which the contents of this post was liberally “borrowed.” To subscribe, please send an email to subscribe@padisciplinaryboard.org.

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