Over many years, the Committee on
Ethics of the Maryland State Bar Association, has developed and relied
upon a set of Guidelines, the purpose of which has been to delineate the
parameters of those matters for which the Committee is responsible and to
establish procedures for meeting its responsibilities.
At its November 2001 meeting, the
Committee approved a revised set of Guidelines which are intended to
address a number of changes that have occurred since 1997, when the
Guidelines were last updated. For example, since 1997, the Committee has
developed an index of its opinions, making it possible to locate previous
Committee opinions by reference to subject matter and specific Rules of
the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct. In addition, with the advent
of MSBA’s website, both the index and the Committee’s prior opinions
are available online to MSBA members. And since 1997, the Committee has
noted an increase in requests for opinions via e-mail, which occasionally omit
necessary information that typically are included in a letterhead format.
In the past, the Committee’s
Guidelines were used internally by the group’s members. To the knowledge
of the present members, the complete Guidelines have never before been
published for the general MSBA membership. Instead, specific provisions of
the Guidelines were occasionally referred to in Committee opinions or in
letters from the Committee’s Chair in order to explain why a specific
opinion was limited to certain issues, or in some instances, to explain
why the Committee had declined to provide an opinion.
Accordingly, in the course of
revising and updating its Guidelines to address the foregoing
developments, the Committee concluded that it might be beneficial to both
the Committee and the MSBA’s membership to publish the Guidelines in the
Bar Bulletin and on the MSBA website. Members of the MSBA are
encouraged to retain a hard copy of the current Guidelines for future
reference when they have an inquiry to submit to the Committee or require
assistance from the assigned members of the Committee hotline. The
Guidelines are as follows:
MARYLAND STATE BAR ASSOCIATION,
INC. COMMITTEE ON ETHICS GUIDELINES
(Approved as of 11/28/01)
The following principles have been
adopted by the Committee on Ethics to govern its operations and
activities. These principles have been drawn from the Bylaws of the
Maryland State Bar Association, Inc., the Rules of Procedure adopted by
the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility and
have otherwise evolved over the years from the operations of the Committee
on Ethics. With the exception of item number 1, these principles are not
intended to be “carved in stone” and the Committee may revise them
from time to time.
1. The Committee issues opinions
solely on the proper interpretation of the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of
Professional Conduct (the “Rules”). Because the Committee is a
standing committee of the Maryland State Bar Association, its opinions are
a. The Committee does not issue
opinions on questions of law, issues likely to be decided by a Court or
tribunal in existing or threatened litigation, or the propriety of past
conduct which may be the subject of disciplinary proceedings or litigation
(except in connection with prospectively rectifying such conduct).
b. The Committee does not usually
issue opinions regarding the conduct of someone other than the person
requesting the opinion, but may do so upon the request of a professional
organization or a Court having jurisdiction over the conduct, which is the
subject of the request.
c. The Committee does not approve
proposed advertising copy, fee agreements, or the text of other legal or
law-related documents, but may opine whether such materials contain
statements or appear to contemplate transactions, which might violate the
2. The Committee may, in its
discretion, issue an opinion on its own initiative or upon the request of
a member of the Bar or from a professional organization or a Court, or
upon a request from a member of the public.
3. Requests for opinions must be
submitted in writing and should be addressed to the Chair of the
Committee. Requests may be transmitted by e-mail provided that the e-mail
contains the information normally included in business or professional
letterhead - for example, the inquirer’s full name; and the name,
address and telephone number of the inquirer’s firm or business; and any
relevant information re. the inquirer’s licensure.
4. The Committee is not a
finder-of-fact, and its opinions are necessarily limited to the facts
presented by the inquirer. Consequently, requests for opinions should
contain sufficient facts to allow adequate consideration by the Committee.
5. Whether requesting a written
opinion of the Committee or oral advice via the “hotline” (see
Guideline 8 below), inquirers are strongly encouraged to locate, review
and cite any relevant Rules and prior Opinions of the Committee (now
indexed and available online via the Bar Association’s website, www.msba.org).
6. Upon receipt, the Chair will
promptly acknowledge each request for a written opinion, will assign each
request an identifying number and will then assign the request to one or
more members of the Committee for the preparation of a draft opinion for
consideration by the Committee. Assignments will generally be made on a
rotational basis; however, the Chair may take into consideration the
urgency, substantive context and complexity of the inquiry, the status of
then outstanding assignments, as well as any particular member’s
previous authorship of relevant opinions.
7. The Committee will issue an
opinion as promptly as circumstances permit, but only after consideration
at a meeting and with the concurrence of a majority of the Committee.
Opinions will not identify the person requesting the opinion or whose
conduct is the subject of the opinion. In most instances, the Committee
will restrict its opinions to the facts and issues posed by the inquirer.
Members of the Committee may express a dissent or a special concurrence,
which will be appended to the opinion upon request. Any new Opinion issued
by the Committee overrules any previously issued Opinion to the extent of
8. Individual members of the
Committee also provide oral advice on the interpretation and application
of the Rules through the operation of a telephone hotline service, which
advice constitutes the interpretation of the individual member alone and
not the opinion of the Committee. (Committee members serving on the
hotline rotate each month and their names may be obtained from the Maryland
Bar Journal, the Bar Association’s website, www.msba.org or
by contacting the Bar Association.) Hotline inquiries should be limited to
matters whose simplicity may not warrant a written opinion by the
Committee or whose urgency may not allow the Committee time to issue such
an opinion. Guidelines 1, 4, and 5, above, apply equally to hotline
inquiries. The Committee member receiving the call may advise the inquirer
to seek a written opinion from the Committee.
9. Information contained in the
Committee’s files relating to requests for opinions which would disclose
the identity of the inquirer or the person whose conduct is the subject of
the opinion will not voluntarily be disclosed without the consent of the
affected persons, unless required by law to do so.