State Bar of California Plans Free Online Training in the New Rules of Professional Conduct

Online Law Student typing on her laptop

The Rules of Professional Conduct, governing lawyer ethics and discipline in California, underwent a major overhaul for the second time in the last 15 years, in a process recently completed by a special commission of volunteer lawyers, prosecutors, judges, and academics. The California Supreme Court approved the new rules by its Administrative Order 2018-05-09 to go into effect on November 1, 2018.

Almost 70 rules were amended or created. According to the State Bar, the new rules have many important changes effecting lawyers’ everyday practice, including:

  • Imposing/expanding special responsibilities of prosecutors concerning exculpatory evidence and discovery. (Rule 3.8; went into effect in November 2017, while the other rules were effective on November 1, 2018.)
  • Prohibiting harassment and discrimination in representation of clients and in law firm operations. Protected categories are expanded to include sexual orientation and both gender identity and gender expression. (Rule 8.4.1).
  • Prohibits sexual relations with clients unless a consensual sexual relationship existed before the representation was undertaken. (Rule 1.8.10)
  • Prohibiting lawyers from counseling or assisting a client with violation of any law, rule, or ruling of a tribunal. This is a rule that we’ve written about before because it has primary applications to attorneys involved in medical and recreational marijuana representations. (Rule 1.2.1)

To help with lawyer competence on the new rules, the State Bar is developing a series of online training modules devoted to the new Rules. The training is expected to launch in Spring 2019, according to State Bar spokesperson Jonah Lamb. “It will be available for all active licensees through the My State Bar Profile page on the State Bar’s website. The course will be free for one year. The primary focus of the course will be on those rules that are either entirely new, or significantly amended. The overall length of the e-learning course will be approximately two hours long. The courses will contain both audio and video content.” The State Bar also offered in-person and webcast training last fall, said Lamb.

In addition to the online training program, the State Bar continues to maintain an ethics hotline (800-238-4427) for attorneys seeking to understand their ethical responsibilities and maintain compliance.

A revision of this scope means every attorney in California should spend some time with the new Rules, getting familiar with changes and refreshing understanding.  Links to the current rules and previous rules can be found on the State Bar website:

Extensive commentary on the development of each rule was documented by the volunteer drafters of the special commission. The State Bar website has published a table, by rule, containing links to the drafting history and comment for each rule at:

A very helpful cross-reference table, comparing the rules prior to November 1, 2018 with those in effect today, can be found at:

California Supreme Court Administrative Order 2018-05-09 can be found at:


Gregory J. Brandes is a law professor and Dean of St. Francis School of Law. He is an expert on legal education and admission to the bar and is admitted to the bars of the United States Supreme Court, Colorado, and Illinois.