Legal Ethics

Ethics Quarterly

Ethics Quarterly, written by members of the Bar’s Legal Ethics Committee, summarizes issues and holdings of ethics-related cases.

To read the latest issue, click here.


Ethics Opinions

The SDCBA's Legal Ethics Committee issues advisory opinions regarding the ethical propriety of hypothetical attorney conduct.  An archive of the SDCBA's Legal Ethics Opinions can be found here.


Ethics in Brief

Ethics in Brief (previously titled "Legal Ethics Corner") is produced by the SDCBA's Legal Ethics Committee as part of This Week at the Bar twice a month.

Read the current Issue of Ethics in Brief here.

Ethics in Brief Archive

Click on a year below to see all Ethics in Brief articles for that year.


Legal Ethics Hotline

The Legal Ethics Hotline is a service for SDCBA attorney members in their consideration of legal ethics issues. The Hotline is staffed by members of the SDCBA Legal Ethics Committee. Once you read the disclosure for use of the Hotline here, you can then call (619) 231-0781 x4145, to leave your name and phone number, and the on-duty attorney will contact you within the next few business hours. Please note that this service is for attorneys only and not members of the public.


Legal Ethics for Emerging Attorneys

"Legal Ethics for Emerging Attorneys" is produced by the SDCBA's Legal Ethics Committee as part of For the Record, the SDCBA's e-publication for newer lawyers. Read past articles by clicking the links below:

November 2016: Stop Reading If You Think You Have Received Privileged Information, By Frank Tobin 
October 2016: A Question of Bias, By Eric Deitz 
September 2016: Ethical Considerations in Advertising to and Drafting Fee Agreements Negotiated with Non-English Speaking Clients, By Richard Hendlin 
August 2016: Ethical Considerations When Moving On, By Edward McIntyre
July 2016: The New Rules of the Road? Decision Approaching on Revised Rules of Professional Conduct that Will Affect How You Practice Law, By Eric Deitz 
June 2016: A Quick Look at Terminating the Attorney-Client Relationship, By Patrick Kearns 
May 2016: Ethics Rules Can Be “Friends,” By Edward McIntyre
April 2016: Attorney Beware: Conflicts of Interest May Still Be Costly Despite the Limited Review of Arbitration Awards, By Andrew Servais
March 2016: Rules of Professional Conduct Redux, By David Cameron Carr
February 2016: Think Twice Before Using an Online Marketing Company, By Alara Chilton
January 2016: Scared Straight Trust Accounting, By Michael Crowley


Legal Ethics Opinions

The SDCBA's Legal Ethics Committee issues advisory opinions regarding the ethical propriety of hypothetical attorney conduct.  An archive of the SDCBA's Legal Ethics Opinions can be found below.

Legal Ethics Opinions are advisory only and are not binding upon any member of the SDCBA, any other member of the State Bar of California, the State Bar of California or its Board of Governors, or any persons or tribunals charged with regulatory responsibilities. The SDCBA, its officers, directors, agents, and the Legal Ethics Committee members assume no responsibility or liability in rendering these opinions.

Note: Legal Ethics Opinions cite the applicable California Rules of Professional Conduct in effect at the time of the writing of the opinion and may be obsolete now. Please refer to the California Rules of Professional Conduct.

SDCBA Historical Ethics Opinions - Click the Opinion Number to View

Ethics Opinion Description
1968-1 Directory Of San Diego Attorneys Published By The Daily Transcript
1968-2 Settlement Negotiations
1968-3 Conflict of Interest
1968-4 Duty To Represent Indigent
1968-5 Purchase Of Practice And Goodwill Of A Deceased Attorney
1969-1 Conflict Of Interest
1969-2 Lawyer Conducting Real Estate Business
1969-3 Advising Opposing Counsel Of Intention To Enter Default Judgment. Ill Feeling Expressed In Letter
1969-4 Payments To Widow And/Or Estate For Temporary Take Over Of Deceased Attorney's Practice. Name On Door And Letterhead.
1969-5 Professional Designations
1969-6 Advertising. Unauthorized Practice Of Law. Rendering Legal Advice To Non-Clients
1969-7 Publication In San Diego Magazine
1969-8 Seminar Conducted For Existing Clients
1969-9 Representation Of Indigents
1970-1 Announcement Of Establishment Of Office
1970-2 Conflict Of Interest
1970-3 Ownership Of Client Files And Intra-Profess1onal Courtesy
1972-1 Withdrawal From Case--Conflict Of Interest
1972-2 Conflict Of Interest
1972-3 Acting As Counsel For Employee
1972-4 Attorney's Directory
1972-5 Contact With Adverse Party
1972-6 In Pro Per Representation Advice By Legal Aid Society
1972-7 Rental Of Office Space To A Lay Person Or Organization
1972-8 Education Degrees In Announcements
1972-9 Professional Business Cards
1972-10 Payment For Services By Credit Card
1972-11 Business Cards And Other Stationery
1972-13 Payment For Services With Credit Cards
1972-14 Sign Size And Content
1972-15 Conflict Of Interest
1972-16 Name On Letterhead
1972-17 Acceptance Of Employment
1973-1 Size Of Sign, Notification Of New Office Address
1973-2 Donations Of Merchandise
1973-3 Refusal To Proceed With Action Until Attorney's Fees Have Been Satisfied
1973-4 Biographical And Legal Background Information; Solicitation
1973-5 Indirect Advertisement And Solicitation
1973-6 Listings In City Directory
1973-7 Employment By A Union; Minimum Fee Schedule
1973-8 Solicitation And Advertising. Providing Business Cards To A Union
1973-9 Law Students And The Unauthorized Practice Of Law
1973-10 Advertising. Listing In Naval Air Station Directory
1973-12 Splitting Fees; Lawyers Referral Service
1973-13 Unauthorized Practice Of Law; Preparation Of Tax Forms
1973-14 Solicitation--Sponsorship Of Coffee Hour Meeting
1974-1 Law Students
1974-2 Appearance For Other Attorneys; Traffic Court Arraignments
1974-3 Legal Editorials; Solicitation
1974-5 Business Cards; Certified Law Clerks
1974-6 Participation In Credit Card Plan
1974-7 Group Legal Services For Members Of A Union
1974-8 Public Criticism Of Sentence
1974-9 Beach Area Free Clinic
1974-10 Use Of "J.D." Or "Doctor" On Letterheads And Business Cards
1974-11 Chamber Of Commerce Directory
1974-12 Conflict Of Interest, Representation Adverse To Former Client
1974-13 Legal Ethics, Unlawful Practice, Attorney For Corporation Vs. Former Client Incorporater
1974-14 Legal Ethics, Unlawful Practice, Conflict Of Interests Re Representation Of One Of Two Former Clients Against The Other Client
1974-15 Legal Ethics, Unlawful Practice, Conflict Of Interests Re Representation Of Former Client In Criminal Matter With Other Former Client As Complaining Witness
1974-16 Lectures On Legal Subjects--Advertising And Solicitation
1974-17 Attorney And Certified Public Accountant Associations
1974-18 Combination Of Careers
1974-19 Donating Legal Services To Combo
1974-20 Free Services To A Client's Customers As Part Of Employment; Solicitation Of Business; Conflict Of Interest
1974-21 Advertising And Solicitation
1974-21.5 Free Services; Conflict Of Interest; Solicitation
1974-22 Conflict Of Interest
1974-23 Office Building Signs; Joint Offices With Laymen; &Quot;Of Counsel&Quot; Relationship
1975-1 Conflict Of Interest
1975-2 Request For Opinion Regarding Solicitation Of Tax Clients
1975-3 The couple indicates that the article would focus on scholastic background and personal lives. May they ethically give permission to the newspaper for such an article?
1975-4 Advisory Opinion Regarding Ethics Of Amount And Method Of Payment Of Legal Fees
1975-5 Solicitation For Office Help
1975-6 Listing Of Name And Phone Number On Brochure For Prepaid Group Legal Plan
1975-7 Use Of Symbol On Business Card
1975-8 Ethics Committee Report
1975-9 Telephone Directory Listings And Branch Offices
1975-10 Ethical Complaint Against Attorney's Firm
1975-11 Announcements; Office Opening; Solicitation
1975-13 Advertising Legal Services At Reduced Rates
1975-14 Lawyer Permitting His Name To Be Used To Promote Preparation Of Wills To Church Members
1975-15 Sign Identifying Building Or Group Of Attorneys Located In Building As Law Center
1975-16 Letterhead
1975-17 Ethics Of Proposal Establishing A Nonprofit Organization To Handle Consumer Complaints Including Referrals To Attorneys When The Complaints Cannot Be Otherwise Resolved.
1975-18 Unauthorized Practice Of Law By House Counsel
1975-19 Conflict Of Interest
1976-1 Participation In Group Legal Services Plan.
1976-2 Request For Opinion Concerning A Bi-Weekly Column In A Local Newspaper
1976-3 Request For Opinion Regarding Solicitation Of Potential Litigants With Similar Or Identical Interests To Those Of An Existing Client.
1976-4 Request For Opinion Regarding Quotation Of Fee Schedule To Membership Of Professional Association.
1976-5 Preserving Identity Of Funds And Property Of Client
1976-7 Free Legal Service Program; Definition Of A Fee Generating Case, Permissible Advertising, Referral Of Clients, Creation Of Referral Panel
1976-8 Finance Charges on Legal Fees
1976-9 Advertisement Of Paralegals
1976-10 Request For Opinion Regarding Representation Of Potentially Conflicting Interests
1976-11 Advertising Of Legal Services In Connection With Membership In A Senior Citizens Group
1976-12 Request For Opinion Regarding Representation Of Criminal Defendants By Partners Or Associates Of An Attorney Who Is An Elected Member Of The City Council.
1976-13 Division Of Fees Between An Attorney And His Former Employer For Work Performed After Termination Of The Employment.
1976-14 Transactions Between Attorney And Adverse Party After Judgment
1976-16 Representation Of The County Board Of Supervisors By The County Counsel's Office In Litigation Brought By Other County Elected Officials Against The Board Of Supervisors, Which County Counsel's Office Also Represents In Other Separate Litigation
1977-1 Conflict of Interest
1977-2 An attorney, employed by Legal Aid, accepted, in the course of his employment, the case of a client which had been refused by a number of attorneys in private practice. The case was of the type traditionally considered compensible by contingency fee.
1977-3 An attorney has been discharged by his client who now wishes to proceed in propria persona on the matter. The client has not paid the attorney and the attorney wants to withhold the client's file until his fee has been paid.
1977-4 Lawyer Advertising
1977-5 Should the members of the Permanent Committee of the Lawyer Referral Service (hereinafter "LRS") and the Board of Directors of the San Diego County Bar Association (hereinafter "Association") and the members of their respective firms be disqualified from
1977-6 Legal Ethics And Unlawful Practice Committee, San Diego County Bar Association
1978-1 May an attorney pursue aspects of a litigation which in his judgment would be advantageous to his client notwithstanding that the client has expressly directed that he not pursue those aspects
1978-2 Cabrillo Pacific University College Of Law--Beach Area Free Clinic
1978-3 Communication By An Attorney With An Adverse Party Represented By Counsel In An Unrelated Matter
1978-4 The collection supervisor for a law corporation, who is apparently not a member of the Bar, uses the law firm stationery for collection letters by signing his name and noting his capacity. The letterhead contains the corporate name of the firm; no individ
1978-5 Legal Ethics And Unlawful Practice Committee, San Diego County Bar Association
1978-6 May the lawyer for a defendant to a suit brought in the Small Claims Division of Municipal Court contact the plaintiff and inform him that he will be sued in "regular" court if he does not drop his claim?
1978-7 Legal Ethics An Unlawful Practice Committee San Diego County Bar Association
1978-8 Communicating With Adverse Party Represented By Counsel
1978-9 Communicating With Adverse Party Represented By Counsel
1978-10 A junior partner of a law corporation allegedly failed to properly represent a client in his business transactions.
1978-11 Should an attorney continue to represent his clients (the heirs of Y and ABC, Inc.) Under the following set of facts:
1983-1 1. May an attorney ethically collect finance charges on past due receivables from clients?
1983-2 In a dissolution matter, where Attorney A specifically requests opposing counsel (Attorney B) to instruct his or her client not to discuss settlement with Attorney A's client, is Attorney B obligated to comply with the request?
1983-3 A variety of Disciplinary Rules and Ethical Considerations compel the conclusion that Attorney A should disclose the unaltered notes to other counsel.
1983-4 May a lawyer be a partner in a "consumer affairs service agency" (hereafter "agency") operated by lay employees, which agency assists clients in filing and serving small claims actions and in collecting small claims judgments?
1983-5 May an attorney ethically mail letters to non-clients, advertising the attorney's services? When is the advertising by mail of an attorney's services permitted under Rule 2-101?
1983-6 The San Diego County Volunteer Lawyer Program has requested an opinion from the Ethics Committee on the following questions: Attorney A is referred a case under the auspices of the Volunteer Lawyer Program. After working on the case for a period of time o
1983-7 During the past few years, several paralegal services agencies have been formed to assist the public in a variety of legal or quasi-legal matters. This opinion is intended to provide advice concerning the parameters of proper activities by such paralegal
1983-8 A non-party witness, not represented by counsel, is testifying in a trial. On cross-examination, Attorney A asks if the witness has discussed the case with opposing counsel, Attorney B, prior to testifying. The witness denies any such communication.
1983-9 In a pending medical malpractice action, may the attorney for defendant (Attorney A) consult with Plaintiff's treating physician concerning the medical issue in controversy without first notifying Plaintiff's attorney (Attorney B). The question assumes th
1983-10 What is the duty of the attorney for a guardian/conservator/personal representative or other fiduciary who will not prepare an accounting and may have converted assets to his own use?
1983-11 Where an attorney is approached by opposing attorney's client, must he notify the opposing attorney before communicating with the opposing client?
1983-12 Does advice and assistance rendered in the selection, preparation and filing of various forms in a dissolution of marriage or legal separation matter by a non-lawyer "divorce center" constitute the unauthorized practice of law? May an attorney associate w
1984-1 Rule 3-103 of the Rules of Professional Conduct provides that a lawyer may not enter into a partnership with a non-lawyer where any part of the partnership business will constitute the practice of law.
1984-2 In undertaking to represent a new client who has interests which conflict with a prior or existing client, California Rule of Professional Conduct 4-101 must be strictly followed. Attorney A is therefore required to seek informed and written consent from
1984-3 Upon withdrawal from representation, must an attorney make available to the client all papers and property in the client's file?
1984-4 May a lawyer be a partner in a "consumer affairs service agency" (hereafter "agency") operated by lay employees, which agency assists clients in filing and serving small claims actions and in collecting small claims judgments?
1984-5 Attorney A represents a party in litigation or controversy against a corporation or other organization. Attorney A actually knows that the organization is represented by Attorney B in the particular controversy. Attorney A wishes to contact and interview
1984-6 Rule 2-108 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, as amended in 1979, deletes the specific requirement that attorneys' fees be divided only in proportion to the services performed or responsibility assumed by each attorney.
1985-1 Two attorneys share office space and office expenses but have not formed a partnership. Both names are listed as a common firm name on the door as well as on the office letterhead. Is the use of a common name or firm name appropriate in these circumstance
1987-1 QUESTION: Is Client's informed consent required for Attorney "A" to maintain a role in the case on behalf of the insurance company?
1987-2 The broader ethical duties to maintain inviolate the confidence of the client and to avoid even the appearance of impropriety behoove Jones & Jones to carefully examine the propriety of entering any such referral fee arrangement, even if the strict requir
1987-3 When confidential or privileged (medical) records are subpoenaed to court and mistakenly delivered to a party (his attorney's office) rather than directly to the court, pursuant to a subpoena duces tecum (Evidence Code section 1560), may the receiving att
1989-1 After a Law & Motion hearing, respondent party ("A") prepares a proposed order and sends it to moving party ("B") for approval as to form. "B" does not approve the order, but sends to "A" an alternative proposed order for approval as to form.
1989-2 An attorney has been retained to represent an executor in the probate of an estate. The attorney is or will be compensated according to statutorily determined probate fees.
1989-4 Attorney has been hired by Law Firm to act as an expert witness in case #1, a matter being handled by Law Firm. Later, Attorney represents Client in Case #2, a litigation matter wholly unrelated to case #1. The party who opposes Client in case #2 is repre
1990-1 Attorney represents a Client in a criminal proceeding. During a meeting between Attorney and Client in Attorney's office, Attorney discloses to Client that a codefendant has agreed to cooperate with the prosecution and provide information which will incri
1990-2 An Attorney represents an Executor in the probate of an estate. During the course of representation, the Attorney learns that the Executor has taken estate funds for personal use and intends to conceal the misappropriation in an accounting to be filed wit
1990-3 When an attorney agrees to draft a document with legal significance for another person, the person who must sign the document for it to have any effect becomes a client, regardless of who asked the attorney to draft the document, who paid for the services
1992-1 May a member of the State Bar act both as attorney for the personal representatives of a probate estate and as real estate broker for the sale of that estate's property, and receive fees from the estate in both capacities?
1992-2 What obligations, if any, are imposed by the Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar of California upon an attorney who obtains knowledge that another attorney has committed a violation of such Rules, which violation raises a substantial question a
1992-3 May an attorney use a personalized direct mailing to communicate with a prospective client who has been arrested, where the attorney obtained the prospective client's name, address and arrest information through public records documenting that arrest?
1993-1 Propriety of Asset Protection Planning
1993-2 A law firm has represented a client charged with a serious felony. The client was convicted. Later, the client is killed and another person is charged with his murder. May the law firm ethically represent the accused murderer? Does it matter that the dece
1995-1 A criminal defendant is charged with having two prior serious felony convictions pursuant to Cal. Pen. Code §667. Pursuant to that section, conviction of the instant offense will carry a minimum indeterminate sentence of 25 years to life. Is it appropriat
1995-2 What are an attorney's ethical obligations following receipt of notice by the adverse party that the attorney's recently?Filed pleading is not legally justified?
1996-1 The attorneys in the above-mentioned scenario are not acting in an "of counsel" status, as it does not appear that their relationship is "close, personal, continuous, and regular." It follows that no such status may be disclosed or otherwise suggested.
1997-1 An attorney may not withhold from a client the attorney's uncommunicated work product if it was reasonably necessary to the client's representation.
1997-2 Lawyers employed in the public sector work in a structural environment that affects the lawyers' ethical duties. Typically, there is one individual who is the head of the agency and on whom ultimate responsibility rests.
2000-1 May an attorney who acts as a Good Samaritan at an accident scene ethically give his business card to one of the people involved in the accident for reasons other than enlisting legal business?
2001-1 May an attorney condition delivery of copies of significant documents in the client's file to the client on the client's prior payment of the copying expense when the representation has not been terminated?
2004-1 Attorney seeks to assert the work-product protection (Cal. Code Civ. Proc. §2018; Fed. R. Civ. Proc, rule 26.; Rest. 3rd Law Governing Lawyers§§ 87-92) against the former client.
 
2005-1 Client employs Lawyer to represent her in bringing a civil action against Professional.
2006-1 The advent of the electronic communication technology revolution via computer networks presents new opportunities for public access to legal services and for lawyers and law firms.
2007-1 Did the attorneys violate RPC 1-300 by aiding Legalworks in the unauthorized practice of law?
2008-1 Each lawyer wants to know what they may disclose: (i) confidentially, to their employment counsel; (ii) publicly, in the complaint or other proceedings necessary to prove their claims; and (iii) publicly, to respond to defenses their former employers might raise to their claims. 
2010-1 Jury Venire - Attorney is not Ethically Prohibited From Conducting Mock Trial with Members of the Community
2011-1 May Attorney, under the California Rules of Professional Conduct and the State Bar Act, answer a court’s question asking if she has any idea why her client is not in court, when Attorney is aware of incriminating information that she suspects may explain her client’s absence?
2011-2 Has Attorney violated his ethical obligations under the California Rules of Professional Conduct, the State Bar Act, or case law addressing the ethical obligations of attorneys?
2012-1 What conditions, consistent with the California Rules of Professional Conduct and the State Bar Act, must an attorney meet to represent a client in litigation when that client regularly transmits and stores information digitally, including by email?
2013-1 What are an attorney's ethical duties to joint clients when settlement discussions give rise to an actual and irreconcilable conflict of interest?
2013-2 Did Attorney offend RPC 5-300(B) in sending an article to Judge with a handwritten note?
2013-3 May an attorney ethically charge a client for providing in-house services such as secretarial overtime, photocopying, processing electronic discovery, electronic legal research, the cost of CDs, mileage and parking, meals, Federal Express and postage, and long distance telephone?