Court modifies rules on lawyer conduct

Posted March 02, 2009, at 11:21 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11:03 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court last week approved an overhaul of the rules of that govern the conduct of lawyers practicing in the state.

The new Code of Professional Conduct goes into effect on Aug. 1, according to a press release posted on the court’s Web site.

While the substance of the 240 pages of rules essentially remains the same, the way in which the sections are organized is much improved, Bangor lawyer Paul Chaiken, who chaired the committee that proposed the revisions, said Monday,

“While perhaps 90 percent of the rules are unchanged in substance,” he said, “it is now much more user-friendly and more helpful to the practitioner.”

The version posted on the court’s Web site also included comments and notes on particular sections designed “to provide guidance for interpreting and understanding what the rules are about,” Chaiken said.

Lawyers who violate the rules can be sanctioned by the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar and-or the state’s high court. Lawyers can be disbarred for repeated and-or egregious violations.

The new rules also benefit the consumers of legal services, Chaiken said.

“This affords more consistency for lawyers’ conduct across the country,” he said. “People who are wondering about what a lawyer’s duty is to a client may research it more easily. It really brings more clarity to the rules so that they are more understandable.”

Over the past decade, states across the country have revamped their rules to conform with the model set of rules written in 2000 by the American Bar Association. Maine is the second-to-last state in the nation to approve the revised standards, according to J. Scott Davis, bar counsel to the Overseers of the Bar, the organization charged with enforcing the rules.

New York’s Supreme Court approved their new rules a few days before the state’s justices on Thursday made theirs official, Davis said Monday. California is the only state left to implement changes.

Four years ago, the committee headed by Chaiken began working to bring Maine’s rules more in line with the organization and numbering system set out in the ABA’s model rules. Not all of the model rules, some of which simply were not conducive to a sparsely populated state with a relatively small collegial bar such as Maine, were adopted, he said.

The committee submitted its recommendations to the Maine supreme court in October 2007.

The justices added two “aspirational” sections on providing pro bono, or free, legal services and advertising. Lawyers in Maine are required to give time and money to people and-or organizations that cannot afford to pay for legal services and to participate in activities for improving the law, the legal system or the legal profession.

Under the section on advertising, the court said that ads should be “informative to potential clients, presented in an understandable and dignified fashion, and accurately portray the serious purpose of legal services and our judicial system.” Advertising also should avoid suggesting promised results or “create unjustified expectations such as ‘guaranteed results’ or ‘we get top dollar awards,’” the court wrote.

The “aspirational” goals will not be enforced through the disciplinary process, as the rules are.

The last overhaul of the bar rules was in the 1980s, according to information on the court’s Web site. Since then, they have been amended many times, most recently, just last month.

The justices on Feb. 17 approved an amendment that would allow an attorney working for an “approved courthouse legal assistance program” to announce his availability before the start of and during court proceedings. The rule otherwise prevents lawyers from soliciting employment through any form of personal contact.

To read the new Maine Rules of Professional Conduct, visit www.courts.state.me.us.

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