March 2021 Ethically Speaking - The Buck Stops Here: Oversight Obligations as to Subordinate Attorneys and Non-Attorney Employees

2021-03-01 Published Article
Orange County Lawyer Magazine

So often in this column, we focus on what you, the lawyer, personally should do to comply with the ethical standards governing our profession. It might surprise some to learn that lawyers must go beyond ensuring their own practice is ethical. Lawyers are obligated to make sure that those they manage—including attorneys and non-attorney employees or agents—comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct (Rules) as well. The practice of law is becoming fundamentally more collaborative all the time, with lawyers increasingly delegating tasks and analyses to systems and subordinates, in order to complete their work efficiently and in compliance with the myriad ethical and procedural rules governing our profession. (Credit to Newmeyer Dillion associate, Shaia Araghi, who posed a question regarding the potential supervisorial responsibility of associate attorneys, which inspired this article.)

This article does not address the obligations of subordinate attorneys who do not have managerial or supervisory responsibility. Those obligations are set forth in Rule 5.2, and are discussed in the September 2019 Ethically Speaking column.