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Young Lawyers: Ethics and Starting Out

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STATE BAR OF NEVADA
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Nevada Lawyer Magazine
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“If you have questions regarding ethical issues call the State Bar Ethics Hotline: (800) 254-2797.”
BY JEREMY REICHENBERG, ESQ., YOUNG LAWYERS CHAIR
Young Lawyers
ETHICS AND STARTING OUT
The majority of young lawyers begin their careers in If the partner tells me to do it I the employ of someone else, be it a law firm, government am OK, right? agency or as in-house counsel. Most of these employment Rule of Professional Conduct 5.2 deals specifically with scenarios come with the implicit agreement that the young the responsibilities of a subordinate lawyer. Rule 5.2 says, lawyer will work under one or more senior practitioners. “[a] lawyer is bound by the Rules of Professional Conduct For the vast majority of young lawyers, the advice and notwithstanding that the lawyer acted at the direction of direction received from a mentor/supervisor will help to another person. A subordinate lawyer prepare them for a career of competent does not violate the Rules of Professional and ethical practice. But, what do you Conduct if that lawyer acts in accordance do if you are concerned that, in the “Your reputation with a supervisory lawyer’s reasonable performance of your job, you are being as a professional, resolution of an arguable question of asked by a supervisor to commit ethical in whatever legal professional duty.” RPC 5.2. In other words, violations? if a supervising attorney asks you to do community you something that clearly violates the rules and practice, matters Know the rules you do it, you should plan on hearing from more in the long Read the rules. This is sage advice the Office of Bar Counsel. If it’s a judgment term than a that most young lawyers probably call, you may have an argument that you receive daily. As a lawyer, your conduct paycheck or two were simply relying on the judgment and is governed by the Rules of Professional and it is hard direction of your supervisor. Conduct (RPC) and “[f]ailure to comply to repair once This point is further driven home in the with an obligation or prohibition comment of the ABA Model Rule on which tarnished.” imposed by a rule is basis for invoking Rule 5.2 is based. “Although a lawyer is not the disciplinary process.” RPC 1.0A(c) relieved of responsibility for a violation by Since you are subject to discipline for the fact that the lawyer acted at the direction of a supervisor, violating these rules take the time to read them and, that fact may be relevant in determining whether a lawyer as Justice Hardesty said at a recent ethics CLE that I had the knowledge required to render conduct a violation attended, re-read them periodically. It is always good of the rules.” ABA Model Rule 5.2 Comment [1]. Bottom to revisit a topic that you haven’t dealt with in a while, line: if you know what you are doing is a clear violation of and the Rules of Professional Conduct are no different the ethical rules, do not do it. If it is an “arguable question” and no less important than any other you encounter in that you bring to your supervisor’s attention and you follow your practice. Make the time to read and understand the your supervisor’s decision when s/he tells you to go forward, ethical rules if it has been a while. tactfully send a “CYA” letter to your supervisor regarding your discussion and his/her decision. You won’t be “relieved of responsibility” but it may help you when the Office of Bar Counsel comes knocking.
42 Nevada Lawyer March 2013
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Consider your future
It is hard to imagine a worse situation for a young lawyer than to be asked by an employer to violate an ethical rule. The thought of displeasing a supervisor or mentor, or worse, being fired for not doing what you’re told, is unpleasant for anyone. However, a job in the near term is not worth being subjected to a disciplinary hearing or, worse, being suspended from practice. Your reputation as a professional, in whatever legal community you practice, matters more in the long term than a paycheck or two and it is hard to repair once tarnished. Further, as your mom always said: you are judged by the company you keep. If you find yourself in the unenviable situation of feeling that those you are working for are stepping too close to ethical lines for your taste, you need to carefully consider your future with your current employer.
When in doubt, make a call
Not every situation is clear. If you have questions regarding ethical issues call the State Bar Ethics Hotline: (800) 2542797. Through the hotline you can contact the Office of Bar Counsel for informal advice. More information can be found at the state bar’s website at www.nvbar.org. Just remember: It’s better to call Bar Counsel than to wish you had, just as it’s better to know the ethical rules and work within them than to wish you had. Work carefully, and you’re setting a path towards a long and well-respected career in the law.
The State Bar of Nevada is hiring!
Open Position: Access to Justice Director
The State Bar of Nevada is looking for talented professionals to apply for the position of Access to Justice Director. In addition to serving as the administrator to the Access to Justice Commission, the director also supports and coordinates state bar initiatives on pro bono. For more information and application instructions, please visit www.nvbar.org > About Us > Employment Opportunities, or contact us at hr@nvbar.org.
March 2013
Nevada Lawyer
43

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