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WTLA Conference in Hawaii - Ethical Implications of Working Remotely

Recently, Lauren Wood had the privilege of presenting at the WTLA conference in Hawaii, where she delved into the ethical challenges faced by attorneys practicing remotely.



Western Trial Lawyers Association (WTLA) is a group of trial lawyers in the Western United States, and the group offers two seminars a year: one in the winter and one in the summer. This summer's event, held on the beautiful island of Maui, took place from June 3-7, 2024.


Lauren's Topic, Ethical Implications of Working Remotely, is an important topic for discussion amongst attorneys, as remote work has become increasingly prevalent in the legal field. This topic aimed at maintaining awareness of an attorney's ethical duties in this evolving landscape.


The Evolution of Legal Practice


In 2019, Lauren's presentation at the WTLA conference focused on integrating technology into trial practice. At that time, remote work was almost unheard of for attorneys, with technology primarily used for email communications and cloud services like Dropbox for document management.



However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 drastically changed our professional dynamics. Suddenly, many attorneys found themselves conducting virtual hearings, depositions, and client meetings via platforms like Zoom. This swift transition to remote practice has introduced a unique set of ethical considerations that must be carefully navigated.


Maintaining Ethical Standards


While the mode of practice has changed, the fundamental ethical obligations of legal professionals remain unchanged. Nonetheless, remote practice presents distinct challenges. Drawing from the California State Bar Opinion, let’s explore how different jurisdictions address these challenges.


Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL)


A significant ethical concern is the risk of unauthorized practice of law, particularly when working remotely from a jurisdiction where one is not licensed. The California State Bar Opinion clarifies that attorneys may work remotely from another state while practicing California law, provided they comply with the multijurisdictional practice and UPL rules of the state where they are physically located.


For example, if an attorney licensed in Arizona decides to work remotely from California, they must ensure they are not violating any UPL regulations by practicing California law. The guidelines suggest that legal work should be limited to cases originating from the attorney’s licensed jurisdiction.



ABA Model Rule 5.5


ABA Model Rule 5.5 addresses the unauthorized practice of law and multijurisdictional practice. It allows temporary remote practice in a state where the attorney is not licensed, as long as the services are related to their practice in their home jurisdiction, associated with a licensed lawyer in the remote jurisdiction, or pertinent to a pending proceeding.


Interpretations of this rule vary among states. For instance, Missouri provides clear guidelines on acceptable remote practice scenarios, while other states may have more ambiguous or stringent regulations.


Conclusion


As remote work becomes a fixture in the legal profession, it is essential for attorneys to stay informed about the ethical implications of their practice. A thorough understanding of the rules governing multijurisdictional practice and unauthorized practice of law is vital to maintaining professional integrity. By staying informed and compliant, attorneys can successfully navigate the complexities of remote legal practice while upholding their ethical responsibilities.


As always, if you have questions about this topic or anything related to personal injury law, please do not hesitate to reach out to our office at info@lwoodlaw.com.

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