ALA Code of Professional Responsibility
In 1991, ALA adopted a Code of Professional Ethics to outline professional ethics standards for legal administrators. During the past year, the ALA Board of Directors appointed a task force, chaired by Past President Wendy Rice-Isaacs, to review the existing Code of Professional Ethics and recommend necessary updates to best reflect the current state of the profession and administrators' responsibilities. In addition, the Board appointed a group to review the Member Performance Objectives. As a result of these efforts, the Association has adopted the following newly revised Code of Professional Responsibility that encompasses the spirit of the previous code and performance objectives, and reflects our professional responsibilities in today's profession.
As legal management professionals, members of ALA shall abide by high ethical standards. This ALA Code of Professional Responsibility sets forth standards for the administration of legal management practices. Legal administrators at all levels have a responsibility to uphold and incorporate these standards into their everyday performance. This Code applies to the adminis-tration of legal organizations including private firms, corporate legal departments, legal clinics, government agencies and courts.
Responsibilities to the Profession of Legal Management:
- Uphold the ALA Code of Professional Responsibility and the mission of the Association of Legal Administrators;
- Conduct oneself with integrity and project a positive image of the legal management profession;
- Pursue continuing education to maintain a high level of proficiency in management procedures and issues;
- Promote initiatives for civic, economic and social well-being within our communi- ties; and
- Advocate increased diversity in the legal management community and in all legal service organizations.
Responsibilities to the Legal Employer and its Employees:
- Foster an environment that promotes the use and improvement of sound business practices where all employees can develop, contribute and prosper;
- Be truthful and forthright in all forms of professional and organizational communi- cation;
- Report financial information promptly, completely and accurately, and in a manner that facilitates informed decision making;
- Implement policies and procedures to address professional responsibility, business ethics and conduct;
- Establish an appropriate grievance and appeals process tailored to the legal organization's size and structure; and
- Promote a work environment that does not discriminate, intimidate or allow harassment based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin, gender, age, religion, disability, veteran's status, marital status, sexual orientation or other legally protected characteristics.
Responsibilities to those Outside the Legal Organization:
- Respect the customs and practices of clients, prospective clients, business partners and the community at large;
- Avoid actual or apparent conflicts of interest and advise all appropriate parties of potential conflicts;
- Refrain from soliciting or accepting any fee, commission, gift, gratuity, discount or loan on behalf of oneself, family or friends, that may influence business decisions;
- Ensure the existence of policies and procedures to provide quality client service;
- Utilize confidential and proprietary information solely for legal practice or management purposes and not to further private interest or personal profit; and
- Support outreach activities that cultivate pro bono assistance and law related public education to meet community needs.
Professional associations such as the Association of Legal Administrators (ALA), although well recognized as valuable tools of American business, are subject to severe scrutiny by both federal and state governments.
The single most significant law affecting professional associations is the Sherman Antitrust Act, which makes unlawful "every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce…"
A professional association by the very nature of the fact that it is made up of competitors is a combination, thus satisfying one of the elements in proving an antitrust violation. Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act is also applicable to professional associations; it makes unlawful the same types of conduct that are prohibited by the Sherman Act. Furthermore, almost all states have enacted antitrust laws similar to the Sherman Act.
There is no organization too small or too localized to escape the possibility of a civil or criminal antitrust suit. The federal government has brought civil or criminal actions against such small organizations as Maine Lobstermen, a Virginia audio-visual association, Bakersfield Plumbing Contractors, the Utah Pharmaceuticals Association, and local barbers associations.
The government has brought approximately five civil and ten criminal cases a year against professional associations. It is thus imperative that every professional association member, regardless of the size of the association or the size of those comprising the membership, refrain from indulging in any activity which may be the basis of a federal or state antitrust action.
There are four main areas of antitrust concern for professional associations: price fixing, membership, standardization and certification, and industry self-regulation. The area of greatest concern, for it is the area where individual members are most likely to violate the law and the area where the government appears most concerned, is price fixing. The government may infer a violation of the Sherman Act by the mere fact that all or most of the members of the professional association are doing the same thing with respect to prices. It is not required that there be an actual agreement, written or unwritten, to increase prices. Rather, price fixing is a very broad term which includes any concerted effort or action which has an effect on prices or on competition.
Accordingly, professional association members should refrain from any discussion which may provide the basis for an inference that the members agreed to take action relating to prices, production, allocation of markets, or any other matter having a market effect. The following topics, while not the only ones, are some of the main ones which should not be discussed at regular meetings or member gatherings:
- Do not discuss current or future billing rates, fees, disbursement charges or other items that could be construed as "price." Further, be very careful of discussions of past billing rates, fees or prices.
- Do not discuss what is a fair profit, billing rate or wage level.
- Do not discuss an increase or decrease in price, fees or wages, or disbursement charges. In this regard, remember that interest charges are considered an item of price.
- Do not discuss standardizing or stabilizing prices, fees or wages, or disbursement charges.
- Do not discuss current billing or fee procedures.
- Do not discuss the imposition of credit terms or the amount thereof.
- Do not complain to a competitor that his billing rates, fees or wages constitute unfair trade practices. In this context, another law firm (or even a corporate legal department) may be considered a competitor.
- Do not discuss refusing to deal with anyone because of his pricing or fees.
Do not conduct surveys (under the auspices of ALA or informally) relating to fees, wages or other economic matters without prior review by antitrust legal counsel. Any survey should have the following characteristics: a) participation is voluntary and open to non-members, b) data should be of past transactions, c) data should be collected by an independent third party, such as an accounting firm, d) confidentiality of each participant's data should be preserved, and e) data should be presented only in a composite form to conceal data of any single participant. If these criteria are met, an association can collect and disseminate data on a wide range of matters, including such things as past salaries, vacation policies, types of office equipment used, etc.
However, care must be taken to ensure that the purpose of any survey is to permit each firm to assess its own performance. If a survey is used for the purpose of or has the effect of raising or stabilizing fees, wages, disbursements, credit policies and the like, it will create serious antitrust problems.
Within this same legal framework applicable to surveys, an association can make presentations or circulate articles regarding such educational matters as establishing sound office procedures, etc., provided it is clear that the matters are educational, and not a basis for law firm uniformity or agreement.
Inasmuch as association antitrust violations can subject all association members to criminal and civil liability, members should be aware of the legal risks in regard to membership policy and industry self-regulation. Fair and objective membership requirement policies should be established. Membership policies should avoid:
- Restrictions on dealing with non-members.
- Exclusions from membership, especially if there is a business advantage in being a member.
- Limitations on access to association information, unless the limitation is based upon protection of trade secrets.
The Association of Legal Administrators has a code of ethics, which sets forth parameters of ethical conduct. However, to ensure that the Code of Ethics does not create any antitrust problems, ALA must continue to ensure that its Code does not have arbitrary enforcement procedures or penalties.
The penalties for violating federal or state antitrust laws are severe. The maximum criminal penalty for violating the Sherman Act was increased in 2004 from $350,000 to $1,000,000 for an individual and from $10,000,000 to $100,000,000 for a corporation. Pursuant to the Sentencing Reform Act, alternative maximum fines could be increased to twice the pecuniary gain of an offender or twice the loss to another person.
Individuals and corporate officers who are found guilty of bid rigging, price fixing or market allocation will virtually always be sentenced to jail pursuant to the Sentencing Guidelines; community service cannot be used to avoid imprisonment. The minimum recommended sentence is four months; the maximum is three years.
Additionally, there are civil penalties such as injunctions or cease and desist orders which could result in government supervision of association members, restricting the association's activities or disbanding the association.
Civil suits may be brought by consumers or competitors. Civil antitrust actions result in treble damage awards and attorneys' fees. Thus, if association members are held liable to a competitor for antitrust violations which resulted in $500,000 worth of lost business, the verdict may exceed $1,500,000.
The government's attitude toward professional associations requires professional association members, as well as professional associations themselves, to at all times conduct their business openly and avoid any semblance of activity which might lead to the belief that the association members had agreed, even informally, to something that could have an effect on prices, fees or competition. Thus, it is important that members contact the association headquarters or legal counsel for guidance if they have even the slightest qualms about the propriety of a proposed activity or discussion.
The Jacksonville Chapter has created its own green initiatives by creating our minutes and financial records electronically and posting them on our website for members to view. Communications are sent through email and social media outlets. Invitations for our meetings are sent out as calendar invitations and email reminders. The Chapter is committed to continue with ongoing green initiatives. Do you have an idea how we can improve our global footprint? Please contact [email protected].
"The ALA Diversity Initiative aims to increase awareness of and sensitivity to the differences among our workforce and to advance the concept of inclusiveness and acceptance. ALA's goal is to increase diversity and inclusion in the Association, in the legal management community and in all legal service organizations." See ALA's Diversity Toolkit.
Diversity is defined as the quality or state of having many forms, types, ideas, etc.; variety. For information on mentoring, please review this diversity brochure.
Diversity training is done to educate people on different cultures in order to facilitate better communication
- ALA - Diversity and Inclusion
- American Bar Association - Diversity & Inclusion Center
- SHRM - Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
- U.S. Office of Personnel Management - Policy, Data, Oversight
- Cornell University - Diversity and Inclusion
- Diversity Inc.
- Diversity Resources
- Thomson Reuters Compliance Learning
- Human Rights Campaign