As it stands today, the State Bar’s rules allow for lawyers in California to engage in sexual relationships with clients, provided that the relationship isn’t a form of payment for representation, obtained by “coercion, intimidation or undue influence,” or one that causes the attorney to “perform legal services incompetently.”
Now, State Bar of California — the state legal profession’s self-regulatory body — is considering a ban on sexual relations between attorneys and their clients as one of nearly 70 code revisions. It’s been almost 30 years since the California Bar Association last revised its ethics rules.
Recently, Chain | Cohn | Stiles workers’ compensation lawyer James Yoro provided insight to Kern County residents regarding proposed changes to the State Bar rules. Yoro is the current vice president of the Kern County Bar Association, and will be president next year.
“This kind of conduct is pretty much commonsensical, but I understand maybe it needs to be expressed very clearly, very explicitly so that there is no misunderstanding,” Yoro said recently in a news interview with Bakersfield’s KBFX-58 Eyewitness News.
The State Bar’s ethics commission in charge of the changes says that the goal of the rule change is to “promote trust and confidence in the legal profession and the administration of justice.”
Opponents of the rule changes say they are patronizing to clients unreasonably prohibitive where the client is sophisticated and not vulnerable, as well as an overly intrusive and over-broad regulation of private affairs between consenting adults.
Yoro said while there are some privacy concerns, he believes attorneys should be held to higher standards.
“One of the tenets of legal ethics is that we should not only try to avoid impropriety, but even the appearance of impropriety,” Yoro said.
The American Bar Association already prohibits attorneys from having sex with clients, unless the sexual relationship preceded the legal one. The proposed change in California would exempt spouses, allowing one member of a married couple to represent the other without disciplinary rebuke.
Lawyers who violate regulations are subject to discipline, including loss of their legal license. California’s Supreme Court and is expected to approve the rules in March.
If you or someone you know has been sexually harassed at work, or worked with an attorney who has committed legal malpractice, please contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles for a free consultation. Call (661) 323-4000 or visit the law firm’s website at chainlaw.com.
- California Bar Association considers ban on sex between lawyers, clients (KBFX-58, FOX – Nov. 29, 2016)
- California State Bar considers banning lawyers from having sex with clients (NPR, Valley Public Radio – Nov. 28, 2016)
- California bar association considers ban on attorneys having sex with clients; some lawyers object (Los Angeles Times – Nov. 27. 2016)