A primer on the Michigan State Bar's ethics helpline

By Correy Stephenson

Dolan Media Newswires

Last week, Michigan Lawyers Weekly ran a story about the pros and cons of using LinkedIn's latest marketing feature, endorsements.

Attorneys and marketing experts expressed controlled enthusiasm about the feature, noting that it poses some ethical concerns.

Dawn Evans, director of professional standards for the State Bar of Michigan, suggested that lawyers contact the Bar if they had any concern about running afoul of state Rules of Professional Responsibility.

But she was incorrectly quoted as calling the number a "hotline."

In fact, the State Bar operates an ethics helpline, a distinction that Evans said she has been trying to educate Michigan attorneys about for years.

While a "hotline" connotes 24-7 availability, the services provided by the bar are available only during regular business hours, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

But during those hours, the helpline offers a valuable service to Michigan lawyers.

"The helpline is staffed by lawyers employed by the State Bar who give informal advisory opinions that are not binding on Michigan's attorney discipline system, nor do they constitute an opinion on behalf of either the State Bar's Professional Ethics Committee or the Judicial Ethics Committee," Evans explained.

The helpline is available only to lawyers and judges licensed in the state (consumer inquiries about lawyers' conduct are not taken) when they have questions about their own prospective conduct "that can be answered with reference to the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct and ethics opinions that construe them," she said.

Some topics are off-limits.

Questions that require the application of law or procedure or queries about a topic that is already the subject of a disciplinary complaint or litigation won't be addressed by the helpline, Evans noted. Advice will not be given on past conduct by the inquirer or questions about the conduct of another attorney or judge. Hypotheticals will also not be considered.

Evans said the helpline receives between 10 and 20 calls each day.

The most frequent topics include conflicts of interest, client confidences and secrets, advertising and solicitation, record retention and trust accounts.

The helpline can be reached at (877) 558-4760.

Published: Thu, Apr 25, 2013


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