New Web Service Serves as ‘Ethics ER’ for Lawyers

ER for Lawyers logoA former American Bar Association ethics lawyer has launched a web service that serves as an “emergency room” for lawyers who need immediate assistance with legal ethics issues. The site, ER for Lawyers, provides ethics research to lawyers nationwide.

The site’s founder, Kathryn A. Thompson, is an Illinois lawyer who formerly served eight years as ETHICSearch counsel for the ABA’s Center for Professional Responsibility. There, she fielded ethics hotline inquiries from lawyers, judges and other legal professionals.

The site is the first-ever privately operated nationwide ethics research service for attorneys, Thompson says.

Lawyers can use ER for Lawyers to request research on any topic related to legal ethics and professional responsibility. Thompson will research the issue and provide a memo reporting her conclusions (for a fee, of course). Thompson is careful to say that she does not provide legal advice, only research.

ER for Lawyers assists attorneys in identifying and researching the ethics issues relevant to their particular fact pattern. Our work product is intended to provide a form of self-help to lawyers and does not advocate a particular course of conduct. Thus, ER for Lawyers does not advise attorneys regarding the use or legal effect of the research, recommend a specific course of action to follow or express an opinion on whether a lawyer’s described or alleged conduct constitutes a violation of a state’s rules of professional conduct.

If that paragraph sounds as if it was written by an ethics lawyer, then I suppose that’s a good thing in this context. The site goes on to suggest that lawyers consider retaining legal counsel in their jurisdiction if they find themselves “unable to understand, assimilate or apply the information set forth in the research report.”

The information provided by ER for Lawyers is intended as a starting point to help lawyers decide whether an ethics issue warrants further consideration or action. The research report may include all the information you need to draw a conclusion, make a decision, or put your mind to rest about an ethics issue. On the other hand, it may raise still more unresolved issues. It is your responsibility to decide how to use the information we provide.

In addition to having served as ETHICSearch counsel at the ABA, Thompson previously worked with the ABA’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility in formulating, researching, drafting and revising ABA ethics opinions and model rules of professional conduct. She also contributed ethics columns to the ABA Journal and articles and chapters to other ethics publications.

ER for Lawyers is a step between local bar ethics hotlines and full-fledged legal representation, Thompson says. In many cases, ethics hotlines do not offer the in-depth information a lawyer would want, while hiring an ethics attorney would be overkill. Her approach enables lawyers to take self-help measures to resolve ethical dilemmas before they harm clients or grow into something larger, she believes.

Most research services offered through the site are handled on a fixed-fee basis. More complex projects — such as multijurisdictional research or novel ethics issues — are handled at an hourly rate.

Thompson also maintains a blog, Ethics Over Easy, where she occasionally writes about ethics topics.

 

Posted in:
Tagged:
Updated:
  • I believe that the services ER for Lawyers provides to out-of-state lawyers who do not practice in the area of professional responsibility constitute the unauthorized practice of law. You can find my in-depth analysis of this issue at http://legalresearchandwritingpro.com/blog/2015/01/31/is-er-for-lawyers-engaging-in-the-unauthorized-practice-of-law/.

  • Thanks for the review, Bob. Lisa, I’ve briefly replied to your blog post at your website and also published a detailed, fully-cited response at the ER for Lawyers website:

    http://erforlawyers.com/legal-ethics/is-er-for-lawyers-engaged-in-the-upl/

    Here’s the gist of my reply. Your contention that ER for Lawyers is engaged in the unauthorized practice of law (UPL) is not only unsupported but refuted by the weight of existing ethics and legal authority. Noticeably absent from your analysis is the entire body of ethics opinions that address the unique ethics issues arising in the specific context of ethics consultations between lawyers. In fact, you omit the two state ethics opinions to date that have directly addressed the UPL issue in the context of an “outsourced” ethics consultation between lawyers. Both have concluded that the services do not constitute the unauthorized practice of law.

  • Update: ER for Lawyers has closed its doors. See http://erforlawyers.com/.

    • Bob Ambrogi

      Thanks Lisa. I noticed that recently but hadn’t gotten around to mentioning it here.