The ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility has developed proposed amendments to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The Standing Committee has proposed the addition of a subsection (g) to Model Rule 8.4 to address discrimination in the practice of law, and a revision to the comments to explain the purpose of new subsection (g):
Rule 8.4: Misconduct
It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:
(g) in conduct related to the practice of law, harass or knowingly discriminate against persons on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or socioeconomic status.
Comment  Paragraph (g) applies to conduct related to a lawyer’s practice of law, including the operation and management of a law firm or law practice. It does not apply to conduct unrelated to the practice of law or conduct protected by the First Amendment. Harassment or discrimination that violates paragraph (g) undermines confidence in the legal profession and our legal system. Paragraph (g) does not prohibit lawyers from referring to any particular status or group when such references are material and relevant to factual or legal issues or arguments in a representation. Although lawyers should be mindful of their professional obligations under Rule 6.1 to provide legal services to those unable to pay, as well as the obligations attendant to accepting a court appointment under Rule 6.2, a lawyer is usually not required to represent any specific person or entity. Paragraph (g) does not alter the circumstances stated in Rule 1.16 under which a lawyer is required or permitted to withdraw from or decline to accept a representation.
A lawyer who, in the course of representing a client, knowingly manifests by words or conduct, bias or prejudice based upon race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status, violates paragraph (d) when such actions are prejudicial to the administration of justice. Legitimate advocacy respecting the foregoing factors does not violate paragraph (d). A trial judge’s finding that peremptory challenges were exercised on a discriminatory basis does not alone establish a violation of this rule.
The Standing Committee also issued a memorandum explaining the origin of the amendments, available here. The memorandum explains that although the comments to the Model Rules have addressed discrimination in the practice of law for many years, the Committee thought it important to add the prohibition to the black letter portion of the Model Rules in order to authoritatively prohibit discrimination. As the ABA Young Lawyers Division eloquently explained, “There is a need for a cultural shift in understanding the inherent integrity of people regardless of their race, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, marital status, or disability, to be captured in the rules of professional conduct. This is true because the Model Rules are supposed to ensure the integrity of the legal profession.”
The Standing Committee invites comments on the draft proposal, both in writing and at its public hearing from 3 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, February 7, 2016, at the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina, 3rd Floor, South Tower, Balboa & Mission Hills Meeting Rooms, San Diego, CA. Persons wishing to speak should register by sending an email to email@example.com by January 29, 2016. Speakers should be prepared to speak for four to five minutes and then take questions from the Committee, and there may not be time to accommodate all interested speakers. Comments may be submitted in writing as well to the above email address by March 11, 2016. Comments will be made publicly available.
For more information about the proposed Model Rule change, click here.