Standing Committee on Legal Ethics
Marni E. Byrum, chair
The Standing Committee on Legal Ethics received seven new opinion requests in fiscal year 2013. Since July 1, 2012, the committee issued eight final opinions and is carrying seven requests over to fiscal year 2014, including three that have been issued for public comment.
Opinions issued by the committee address the following topics:
- Disclosure of exculpatory evidence
- Communication with an insurance adjuster when the insured is represented by a lawyer provided by the insurer
- May a criminal defense lawyer agree that he will not give certain discovery materials to his client during the course of the representation, and that he will remove certain materials from his file prior to the end of the representation?
- Obligations of a lawyer in handling settlement funds when a third party lien or claim is asserted
- “Of counsel” relationship
- Use of release-dismissal agreements by prosecutors
- Assisting pro se litigants – courthouse assistance program
- Virtual law office and use of executive office suites
Opinions issued for public comment and pending consideration by the Committee address the following topics:
- When a GAL is appointed, can parent’s lawyer talk to minor child without GAL’s knowledge or GAL speak with represented parent without consent of their counsel
- Inadvertent receipt of confidential information during discovery
- Conflict issues arising when a government lawyer is furloughed from employment and asked to continue representing the agency in appeals arising from the furlough of other employees
Proposed rule amendments currently pending with the Supreme Court of Virginia:
- An amendment to Rule 1.15 to clarify that funds received from a client or third party must be placed into a clearly identified trust account, not a safe deposit box, and that other forms of property can be placed in a safe deposit box or other place of safekeeping.
- An amendment to Rule 1.11(d) providing that a conflict arising from a lawyer’s move from private practice to public employment may be cured with the consent of the applicable clients.
- An amendment to Rule 5.4(d)(2) to bring the rule into alignment with Virginia Code §54.1-3902(B)(1), which permits a non-lawyer to serve as the secretary, treasurer, office manager, or business manager of a professional entity that is authorized to practice law.
Ethics Telephone Calls
In addition to the written requests for ethics opinions outlined above, the number of ethics telephone calls to VSB staff attorneys from July through June averaged 655 per month, compared to 598 per month in FY 2012, an increase of 57 calls per month.