CALL FOR COMMENTS – Proposed Amendments to Wyoming Rules of Professional Conduct

The Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR) and the Bar Counsel Review and Oversight Committee (ROC), in collaboration with the Office of Bar Counsel, have proposed changes to the Wyoming Rules of Professional Conduct (WRPC). Members of the Wyoming State Bar are invited to comment upon the proposed amendments.

The proposed changes affect four discrete areas of the rules. The first is to correct a typographical error that appears in Rule 1.5(e), which deals with fee splitting between lawyers who are not in the same firm. The second is to change the recipient of unclaimed client protection funds from the present rule 1.15(j), which requires such funds to be paid to the Wyoming State Treasurer as unclaimed property, to a rule requiring such funds to be paid the Client Protection Fund of the Wyoming State Bar.

The other two changes are more substantive. First, a rule is proposed for client file retention, which is a frequent topic of Ethics Hotline calls. Second, a significant re-write of the advertising rules is proposed to bring Wyoming’s rules in conformity with ABA Model Rules that were adopted in August 2018. Further information about the proposed amendments follows, along with a link to the proposed amendments themselves.

A summary of the proposed amendments:

  • Changing the word “and” to “or” in Rule 1.5(e). This is to correct a typo that appears in the published version of the rule and is necessary to make the language of Rule 1.5(e) agree with comment [7] to the rule.
  • Amending Rule a.15(j), which has long provided, ““If the owner of property being held in trust by a member of the Wyoming State Bar cannot be located after reasonable efforts, such property shall be remitted to the Wyoming State Treasurer pursuant to the Wyoming Uniform Unclaimed Property Act, W.S. § 34-24-101 et seq.”

    Lawyers who attempt to remit unclaimed trust account funds to the State Treasurer are told to wait three years and then come back if the owner of the funds cannot be found. This is not a very practical solution, as these situations typically arise in the context of a deceased lawyer whose lawyer surrogate is attempting to get the trust account closed and the deceased lawyer’s practice wound down.

    The proposed amendment would change the recipient of unclaimed trust account funds to the Client Protection Fund of the Wyoming State Bar. That way, if the owner of the funds comes calling, the owner can be repaid from the Client Protection Fund, which is a fund to reimburse clients who have been victimized by dishonest lawyers or whose lawyers die owing the client unearned fees.

  • A proposed new rule, Rule 1.15A, dealing with retention of client files. This is the subject of frequent Ethics Hotline calls. There is general agreement that a rule on this subject would be very helpful. A survey of what other states have done with this issue yielded a recently-adopted rule in Massachusetts that all concerned found to be a sensible approach. The adoption of Rule 1.15A would necessitate a small change to Rule 1.16, which also appears in the attachment.
  • Substantial revisions to the rules regarding information about legal services, Rules 7.1 through 7.5. After several years of study, the ABA recently adopted new advertising rules, Rules 7.1, 7.2 and 7.3, and repealed former rules 7.4 and 7.5. The new rules do away with archaic language in the former rules and present a much more sensible – and enforceable – approach to these issues. They are a significant improvement.

At its January 11, 2019, meeting, the Board of Officers & Commissioners approved putting the proposed rule amendments out for comment by the members. Comments should be sent to Mark Gifford, Bar Counsel, at Comments will be accepted until March 15, 2019.

CLICK HERE to download the proposed amendments.

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