On the 15th July, the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility released guidance that expands on a model rule that covers a lawyer’s conduct related to harassment and discrimination.
ABA Formal Ethics Opinion 493 outlines how ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(g) addresses actions by a lawyer beyond the courtroom and the context of client representation. This could include operating an office or behaviour at bar association or other business and social events when they are related to the practice of law.
The rule makes it professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is harassment or discrimination based on various categories, including sex, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. The rule is broader than federal anti-discrimination laws because it also covers conduct that is not severe or pervasive, a standard often utilized for employment discrimination.
The formal opinion notes that most free speech is protected, but the rule is violated by harmful conduct, which “will often be intentional and typically targeted at a particular individual or group of individuals, such as directing a racist or sexist epithet towards others or engaging in unwelcome, nonconsensual physical conduct of a sexual nature.” It said the rule is “critical to maintaining the public’s confidence in the impartiality of the legal system and its trust in the legal profession as a whole.”