The California Supreme Court recently issued an order approving 69 Rules of Professional Conduct for California attorneys, and rejecting one. The rule changes will go into effect Nov. 1, 2018, and will apply to the more than 250,000 attorneys licensed in California.

“This marks the first overhaul of ethics rules for attorneys licensed in California in nearly 30 years,” said Leah T. Wilson, Executive Director of the State Bar of California. “The State Bar appreciates the work of the Commission on the Revision of the Rules of Professional Conduct and the Board of Trustees, as well as the Supreme Court, for bringing about these fundamental changes to attorney ethics rules.”

After extensive review by the State Bar’s Commission on the Revision of the Rules of Professional Conduct, the State Bar Board of Trustees approved the proposed rules in March 2017. The proposed rules, whose creation focused in large part on protecting the public, were then submitted to the Supreme Court.

Highlights of the new rules include:

Expansion of the ban on harassment and discrimination to allow the State Bar to open an investigation without a previous civil finding and to include express prohibitions on harassment and retaliation. The rule would also require an attorney facing discipline charges related to such misconduct to notify the federal and state agencies that enforce anti-discrimination laws.

A stricter rule against sex with clients, banning it unless there was a prior consensual relationship. The current rule prohibits sex as a quid pro quo for representation or if the lawyer employed “coercion, intimidation, or undue influence.”

In 2017 the Court approved another key ethics rule change regarding prosecutorial misconduct, which gives clear guidelines for prosecutors in criminal cases around discovery and disclosure of exculpatory evidence. Such evidence can often impact a defendant’s innocence or guilt.

The California Rules of Professional Conduct are intended to regulate professional conduct of attorneys licensed by the State Bar through discipline. They have been adopted by the Board of Trustees and approved by the California Supreme Court pursuant to statute to protect the public and to promote respect and confidence in the legal profession. The rules and any related standards adopted by the Board are binding on all attorneys licensed by the State Bar.

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