5.02 Responsibilities of a Supervised Lawyer
Back to Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct
A lawyer is bound by these rules notwithstanding that the lawyer acted under the supervision of another person, except that a supervised lawyer does not violate these rules if that lawyer acts in accordance with a supervisory lawyer’s reasonable resolution of an arguable question of professional conduct.
1. Rule 5.02 embodies the fundamental concept that every lawyer is a trained, mature, licensed professional who has sworn to uphold ethical standards and who is responsible for the lawyer's own conduct. Accordingly, a lawyer is not relieved from compliance with these rules because the lawyer acted under the supervision of an employer or other person. In some situations, the fact that a lawyer acted at the direction or order of another person may be relevant in determining whether the lawyer had the knowledge required to render the conduct a violation of these rules. The fact of supervision may also, of course, be a circumstance to be considered by a grievance committee or court in mitigation of the penalty to be imposed for violation of a rule.
2. In many law firms and organizations, the relatively inexperienced lawyer works as an assistant to a more experienced lawyer or is directed, supervised or given guidance by an experienced lawyer in the firm. In the normal course of practice the senior lawyer has the responsibility for making the decisions involving professional judgment as to procedures to be taken, the status of the law, and the propriety of actions to be taken by the lawyers. Otherwise a consistent course of action could not be taken on behalf of clients. The junior lawyer reasonably can be expected to acquiesce in the decisions made by the senior lawyer unless the decision is clearly wrong.
3. Rule 5.02 takes a realistic attitude toward those prevailing modes of practice by lawyers not engaged in solo practice. Accordingly, Rule 5.02 provides the supervised lawyer with a special defense in a disciplinary proceeding in which the lawyer is charged with having violated a rule of professional conduct. The supervised lawyer is entitled to this defense only if it appears that an arguable question of professional conduct was resolved by a supervising lawyer and that a resolution made by the supervising lawyer was a reasonable resolution. The resolution is a reasonable one, even if it is ultimately found to be officially unacceptable, provided it would have appeared reasonable to a disinterested, competent lawyer based on the information reasonably available to the supervising lawyer at the time the resolution was made. Supervisory lawyer as used in Rule 5.02 should be construed in conformity with prevailing modes of practice in firms and other groups and, therefore, should include a senior lawyer who undertakes to resolve the question of professional propriety as well as a lawyer who more directly supervises the supervised lawyer.
4. By providing such a defense to the supervised lawyer, Rule 5.02 recognizes that the inexperienced lawyer working under the direction or supervision of an employer or senior attorney is not in a favorable position to disagree with reasonable decisions made by the experienced lawyer. Often, the only choices available to the supervised lawyer would be to accept the decision made by the senior lawyer or to resign or otherwise lose the employment. This provision of Rule 5.02 also recognizes that it is not necessarily improper for the inexperienced lawyer to rely, reasonably and in good faith, upon decisions made in unclear matters by senior lawyers in the organization.
5. The defense provided by this Rule is available without regard to whether the conduct in question was originally proposed by the supervised lawyer or another person. Nevertheless, the supervised lawyer is not permitted to accept an unreasonable decision as to the propriety of professional conduct. The Rule obviously provides no defense to the supervised lawyer who participates in clearly wrongful conduct. Reliance can be placed only upon a reasonable resolution made by the supervisory lawyer.
6. The protection afforded by Rule 5.02 to a supervised lawyer relates only to professional disciplinary proceedings. Whether a similar defense may exist in actions in tort or for breach of contract is a question beyond the scope of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.