There is an awful lot to like and agree with in this post from Dan Lear, one of the folks who have been the face of Avvo for quite some time. But there is a piece of it that is just simply wrong, and while it would be hyperbole to say it is dangerously wrong, it certainly is wrong in a way that lawyers don’t need to have reinforced. Lear writes:
Do the RPCs apply when an attorney isn’t working as a lawyer? First, bar associations don’t regulate endeavors that aren’t the practice of law, especially awesome ones. While a lawyer may choose to apply the RPCs outside of the practice of law, the bar doesn’t regulate lawyers as a landlord, an expert witness, or even a restaurant owner.
Even understanding the larger point Lear is attempting to make, this is utterly and simply wrong. ABA Model Rule 8.4 – with language that is tracked in I believe pretty much every U.S. jurisdiction — does not limit itself to situations in which a lawyer is only representing a client and also does not draw a bright line around a lawyer “being a lawyer,”
The easiest, and most obvious, part of the rule that makes the point is RPC 8.4(b) which gets lawyers in ethical trouble for certain criminal acts even having nothing to do with, or not happening while, they are working as a lawyer.
But there are two other, more broadly problematic ways that RPC 8.4 does extend to, and actually govern, the conduct of people who happen to also be lawyers while they are doing things that they don’t think of as working as a lawyer know matter how much they may subjectively think they are being “awesome.”
Those two other pieces are RPC 8.4(a) and (c). When combined those pieces of the rule read:
It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to . . .
(a) violate or attempt to violate [the ethics rules], knowingly assist or induce another to do so, or do so through the acts of another . . . [or]
(c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation….
I’ve often joked about 8.4(c) as being the only ethics rule in the books that has to mean something other than what it actually says because, as written, it would make it professional misconduct for me to answer questions from children about Christmas presents or bluff while playing poker or dive to get a call while playing over-35 soccer on Monday nights. I’ve also, once before and also in response to something written by a lawyer more famous than I, advocated that it shouldn’t apply to a lawyer operating a parody account on social media. But there are aspects of how that rule truly does apply to dishonesty by lawyers, even when not acting as lawyers, which are quite serious. Easy examples from the recent past involve deans and others affiliated with administrative positions at law schools lying about statistics to improve enrollment numbers and the like.
And, perhaps the most perplexing and concerning of the examples Lear offers of things a lawyer could do where they wouldn’t be bound by the ethics rules is serving as an expert witness. I’ve been fortunate enough to serve as an expert on more than a handful of occasions in my career, and, suffice it to say, RPC 8.4 is not the only ethics rule that will still apply to the lawyer when serving in that capacity.