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ALA Urges Reconsideration of Texas Ethics Rule Prohibiting Titles for Non-Lawyer Management Positions

  • Aug 10

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS — The Association of Legal Administrators, an organization representing 9,000 professionals who lead the strategic business operations of law firms and law departments worldwide, has joined with several other legal business associations to call for a reconsideration of a Texas State Bar ethics decision that prohibits the use of certain titles for non-lawyer management positions.

The Ethics Committee's decision states a Texas firm may not use "officer" or "principal" in job titles for non-lawyer employees of the firm, arguing that doing so gives the impression of non-lawyers exerting control or influence over the work of lawyers, a violation of the rules of professional conduct.

ALA, along with is co-signatories, argued that the Committee's interpretation does not help to advance the intent of the rules of professional conduct, as roles such as "Chief Technology Officer, or "Chief Executive Officer" do not exercise any control or influence over the manner in which lawyers conduct work on behalf of clients. These roles are designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of law firm operations and have little or no interaction with client matters.

The associations argue that the Opinion fails to account for the functional roles assumed by these positions and instead focuses exclusively on the title itself. Firms of all sizes employ Chief Administrative Officers, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Technology Officers, and similar positions. These roles provide vital services to law firms, but do not control or influence the way lawyers conduct their professional activities or convey equity interest in the firm.

The groups also noted that the Opinion is contrary to current trends in law firm management and argued its enforcement will impede law firms from from recruiting and retaining professionals with the skills and experience necessary in today's legal environment, creating greater risk for both the firms and their clients.

"The decade ahead will be shaped by powerful economic, political, technological, environmental and socio-demographic global forces, which underscores the necessity for new thinking and large-scale change to serve a rapidly changing world," the letter stated.

The associations signing on to the letter were: Association of Legal Administrators, American Association of Law Libraries, International Legal Technology Association, International Practice Management Association and the Legal Marketing Association.

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