All of us at Hackard Law would like to express our sympathy to the many lives that have been impacted as a result of wildfires in Northern California. The fires have effected many people, including lawyers and law firms.
Attorneys should consider their ethical obligations if their practice has been affected or forced to close due to a natural disaster or other catastrophic event. The State Bar of California has resources available for attorneys with questions or concerns about their ethical obligations. Such attorneys should contact the State Bar's free and confidential Ethics Hotline at 1-800-2-ETHICS or 1-800-238-4427.
The State Bar has always warned the public to watch out for and report potential fraud by lawyers. The State Bar has posted information on its website reminding us all that California law prohibits lawyers or others acting on behalf of a lawyer from:
- Soliciting clients at an accident scene, at a hospital, or on the way to a hospital
- Soliciting clients who, due to their physical, emotional or mental state, may not be able to have reasonable judgment about the hiring of an attorney
- Seeking clients by mail unless the letter and envelope are clearly labeled as an advertisement
- Promising a particular outcome from the legal representation
- A lawyer's ethical obligation to capably serve clients does not end in the wake of a natural disaster such as a fire. Here are some ethical rules and statutes that may apply:
- Rule 3-110 of the California Rules of Professional Conduct forbids a lawyer from intentionally or "with reckless disregard" failing to perform legal services competently
- Rule 3-500 of the California Rules of Professional Conduct requires attorneys to keep clients informed
- Rule 3-700 of the California Rules of Professional Conduct outlines how and when a lawyer may withdraw from representation
- Rule 4-100 of the California Rules of Professional Conduct provides that a lawyer shall "identify and label securities and properties of a client promptly upon receipt and place them in a safe deposit box or other place of safekeeping as soon as practicable."
- Code of Civil Procedure Section 286 governs the death, removal or withdrawal of an attorney
- Business and Professions Code Section 6068 describes the duties of an attorney generally
- Business and Professions Code Section 6180 and Business and Professions Code Section 6190 govern the Superior Court's assumption of jurisdiction over a law practice when an attorney becomes incapacitated or ceases law practice
Be Prepared for a Future Disaster
For those of us fortunate to not have been affected by the recent wildfires, the State Bar of California has also encouraged us not affected to prepare if disaster strikes again with the following tips:
- Make sure your property insurance covers client property, along with the cost of hiring temporary help to reconstruct files and billing systems
- Maintain an off-site list of client names and contact information
- Maintain an off-site list of cases including case name, docket number, court, judge and opposing counsel
- Maintain an off-site calendar for each case
- Maintain off-site accounting records and billing information
- Back up computer files, with one set stored off site
- Keep an inventory of client property and valuable office furnishings
- Keep irreplaceable client property in a locked, watertight and fireproof safe or evidence locker
- Arrange for a designated attorney to administer a law practice in the event the lawyer becomes disabled or incapacitated through the State Bar Attorney Surrogacy program
Again, our hearts go out to all those affected by the fires of California. We urge all attorneys - including our law firm - to always, and especially during these times, be in compliance with our ethical and professional responsibilities. The State Bar of California is available to attorneys who have questions.
We share this as a public service and as a reminder to all of us that we should prepare for disasters.