New Rules of Professional Conduct on the Horizon or Dead on Arrival?

The State Bar of California has the duty to ensure all attorneys abide by the Rules of Professional Conduct that are approved by the California Supreme Court. The Current Rules of Professional Conduct have not been modified since 1992.

The State Bar of California and the California Supreme Court have been considering a major restructuring of the state’s ethics rules. After nine years of work, the State Bar recommended that the Rules of Professional Conduct be replaced with 67 new rules based upon the American Bar Association (“ABA”)’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct. California is the only state that has not adopted the Model Rules, or a version of them.

The State Bar requested approval of six of the proposed rules in a petition to the California Supreme Court on July 20, 2011. Those are Rule 1.0 (regarding the purpose and scope of the rules) and Rules 7.1 through 7.5 (regarding advertising). The State Bar limited its initial submission to allow the court to consider the proposal’s logic and organization without being overwhelmed by detailed materials on all 67 proposed rules. The petition includes some dissenting opinions on particular rules.
However, on October 28, 2011, the California Supreme Court officially refused the State Bar’s paternalistic gesture when it asked the State Bar to withdraw its prior submission of  just six proposed new rules and instead submit the entire set of proposed rules.  The order was granted, directing the State Bar to submit a new petition.
However, 10 months later, no petition has yet been submitted.  This is causing some to speculate that because those who practice State Bar Defense have already undergone so much recent change (e.g. complete update of Rules of Procedure of the State Bar, etc.) and that, substantively, the new rules are already obsolete (cf. ABA 20/20) or in conflict with new case law, that the overhaul, itself, will be overhauled.