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Exploring ethical and constitutional issues at play in State Bar proposed ban on attorney-client sex

Gavel and scales.
Gavel and scales.
s_falkow/Flickr Creative Commons

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The State Bar of California is doing a major overhaul of its ethics rules, and one particular proposal is getting a lot of attention.

It would put a blanket ban on sexual relationships between attorneys and their clients, with an exception for sexual relationships that preceded the attorney-client relationships as well as lawyers’ spouses or registered domestic partners.

If you’re wondering why this hasn’t been addressed by the Bar already, it has, just not in such an all-encompassing way. The current rule forbids attorneys from forcing clients to have sex in exchange for legal services or representation, or if the relationship causes the attorney to “perform legal services incompetently.”

Supporters say an all-out ban will help address the inherent inequality that comes with the attorney-client relationship and help prevent future ethical issues. But opponents say that the ban goes too far in limiting what two consenting adults should be allowed to do and that it raises some constitutional issues regarding privacy.


Kevin Mohr, professor of law at Western State College and consultant to the State Bar of California’s Special Commission for the Revision of the California Rules of Professional Conduct; he is also the immediate past chair of the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Professional Responsibility and Ethics Committee

Teresa Schmid, chair of the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Professional Responsibility and Ethics Committee, which prepared LACBA’s position