Impairment in the Law Firm: Ethical Duties of Partners and Supervisory Lawyers

In a December 2016 advisory opinion, the Supreme Court of Virginia examined…”the ethical obligations of a partner or supervisory lawyer who reasonably believes another lawyer in the firm may be suffering from a significant impairment that poses a risk to clients or the general public.” Distinct from reporting obligations when an impaired lawyer has already engaged in misconduct, this opinion addresses the obligation to take precautionary measures before misconduct occurs.

Relying on ABA Formal Opinion 03-429 (2003), the Court concluded that the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct require partners or supervisory lawyers in law firms to make reasonable efforts to ensure that an impaired lawyer in the firm, or under their supervision, does not violate the Rules, and further, that they take reasonable steps to prevent such violations by the impaired lawyer.

Access Supreme Court of Virginia Legal Ethics Opinion 1886 here, which includes hypotheticals and various approaches firms can take when addressing impairment.

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