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First ethics overhaul in decades brings big change for CA lawyers

A recent media spotlight placed on California attorneys and the rules that govern their conduct pursuant to professional practice notes that it has been decades since the last full revision of the state’s ethics rules.

Much has changed since the 1980s, of course, which was the last time the State Bar of California took a hard and comprehensive look at lawyerly behavior prior to its recent overhaul of ethics provisions.

Obviously, the time was ripe for refreshed scrutiny, as evidenced by bar officials’ recommendation that a staggering 70 rules be newly implemented or materially revised. The process required for change in California mandates that the state’s Supreme Court ultimately decide the fate of every proposal. Justices of that ranking tribunal recently finished that task, approving every single bar proposal save one.

Notwithstanding the court’s endorsement of 69 new or amended recommendations, one adjusted rule has commanded outsized attention in the media and legal community.

Namely, that it this: Effective from this November, there will be a taboo on sexual relations between any California attorney and a client, with a narrow exception. The longstanding rule that still remains valid until then bars sexual conduct that is either coerced or demanded by a lawyer in exchange for legal advocacy on behalf of a client. The above-cited article notes that, come November, “even consensual sex between attorneys and clients will be banned unless it preceded the professional relationship” or is between married or other already intimate partners.

The ban was reportedly “divisive.” Critics say it invades privacy, with advocates countering that a change was imperative because no relationship between an attorney and client can be truly equal.

Notably, a strong minority of other states already have a similar rule.