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ABA Guidance Details Obligations After Hurricanes, Other Disasters

Thursday, September 20, 2018

ABA Guidance Details Obligations After Hurricanes, Other Disasters

"With hurricane season in full swing in the United States and climate scientists predicting more extreme weather in the future, the American Bar Association on Wednesday issued guidance on the ethical duties for lawyers whose practices are affected by natural disasters.

The ABA’s standing committee on ethics and professional responsibility published a formal ethics opinion related to disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding and fires. The bar association’s opinion seeks to remind lawyers of the specific ethical obligations—including those related to protecting client information and attorney advertising—that they should keep in mind when severe weather wreaks havoc in their area.
The ABA noted that among other issues, extreme weather can knock out power for extended periods of time and, in turn, could affect a lawyer’s ability to be in contact with clients and banks that may be holding client or third-party funds in an attorney trust account.

“Lawyers have an ethical obligation to implement reasonable measures to safeguard property and funds they hold for clients or third parties, prepare for business interruption, and keep clients informed about how to contact the lawyers (or their successor counsel),” the ABA wrote in the ethics opinion.

The guidance isn’t binding, but state bars often look to the ABA’s model ethics rules and opinions when determining their own ethics rules and how they should be applied. Only the states of California, Louisiana and New York have issued ethics opinions dealing with disasters, according to the ABA.
Although the ABA opinion doesn’t appear to be tied to any specific event, its release on Wednesday comes after an extended period of wildfires in the western U.S. and on the heels of Hurricane Florence’s battering of the Carolinas, a storm that impacted law firms along with other residents in the region. Law firms in Texas were similarly affected in 2017 when Hurricane Harvey caused widespread flooding and damage in Houston and other parts of that state..."

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