Sanctions for Rudy Giuliani and other attorneys over dismissed election fraud lawsuits aimed at keeping Donald Trump in office topped Bloomberg Law’s legal ethics headlines for 2021.
The pandemic’s effect on female lawyer mental health, action on judicial stock disclosures, and the death of an ethics trailblazer also made the list of top stories.
Special reports on potential ethics traps faced by attorneys practicing cannabis law, and the lack of comprehensive data on how disciplinary bodies and assistance programs confront the problem of dementia and aging lawyers are featured as well.
Former Trump lawyer and New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani was temporarily suspended by a New York state appeals court in June for “making false and misleading statements to courts” about the 2020 presidential election results. Ethics experts called the interim suspension “surprising” and “relatively rare.”
Sidney Powell, Lin Wood, and others were ordered in December to pay over $175,000 in sanctions for filing a frivolous lawsuit in Michigan over the election. U.S. District Judge Linda Parker called the lawsuit “a historic and profound abuse of the judicial process.” The attorneys have appealed.
A bipartisan bill that would require the federal judiciary to post financial disclosures online and create stricter disclosure rules easily won U.S. House approval in December.
The legislation was introduced after a Wall Street Journal report found that 131 judges heard cases in which they or a family member held stock in a company involved in the case. The Senate hasn’t yet acted on similar legislation.
Mental Health Disparity
Overworked women lawyers experience more mental health problems and engage in high-risk drinking at a greater rate than male colleagues, a survey of nearly 3,000 attorneys in California and the District of Columbia found.
The study released in May by the California Lawyers Association and the D.C. Bar found more women screening positive for hazardous drinking than in the past. About a third, or 34%, reported high-risk or hazardous drinking compared with 25.4% of men. It’s a snapshot showing a reversal of trends generally finding men engaging more frequently in substance abuse.
Stanford Law Professor Deborah Rhode was known for her passion to improve access to justice, and her unexpected death in January left a hole in the legal ethics community. Georgetown University Law professor David J. Luban called her the “most influential legal ethics person in the country,” if not the world.
Rhode’s Stanford Law bio noted she was the nation’s most frequently cited scholar on legal ethics. Her scholarship also focused on gender issues and feminism, as well as leadership—how to groom effective leaders in the workplace and in society. She authored 30 books.
Remote Work and Ethics
More lawyers will work from jurisdictions where they aren’t licensed after the Covid-19 pandemic ends and all attorneys will need to get more comfortable with the technology needed to practice virtually.
Those are just two ways the pandemic has prompted a rethinking of ethics rules governing how attorneys practice. Some old rules preserved on ethical or business grounds no longer make sense while others have gotten new attention, legal ethics experts say.
In February, former Willkie Farr & Gallagher chairman Gordon Caplan was suspended for two years, retroactive to November 2019, for his role in the U.S. college admissions scandal known as Varsity Blues.
Caplan pleaded guilty to a fraud-conspiracy charge for paying $75,000 to fix his daughter’s college entrance exam scores. He spent one month in jail. A New York appeals court said that the sanction “properly balances respondent’s criminal conduct with the substantial evidence in mitigation.”
Ethics, Cannabis Law
Ethical and legal snags abound for lawyers representing cannabis industry clients in the growing number of states where weed is legal, requiring extra due diligence to ensure compliance, attorneys familiar with the rapidly evolving business tell Bloomberg Law.
The land mine is federal law, which still outlaws pot. This requires attorneys to monitor ethics requirements and regulatory developments even more closely, and to fine tune their antenna about clients as firms consider expanding into the space. Tax, trade, intellectual property, local licensing, employment, and environment law are some areas to watch.
Dementia and Aging Lawyers
Recent comprehensive data on how often disciplinary bodies and lawyer assistance programs confront the problem of dementia and aging lawyers is non-existent, and there’s no way of knowing how often colleagues intervene without assistance from a professional organization.
Over the past decade, the number of lawyers practicing over the age of 65 has increased more than 50%. In 2020, roughly 14% of American lawyers were over 65, compared to 7% of workers generally. Meanwhile, more than one in nine people over 65 are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the most common type of dementia. The risk increases dramatically with age.
—With Madison Alder, Joyce Cutler, and Holly Barker