April 19, 2001
A full-time judge should not provide instruction in legal writing and advocacy
skills to a law firm's associates as part of its Continuing Legal Education
22 NYCRR 100.2(C); 100.4(A)(3); 100.4(B); 100.4(H)(1);
Opinions 98-121 (Vol. XVII); 96-143 (Vol. XV); 90-204 (Vol. VII).
Prior to becoming a full-time judge, the inquirer had been a partner in the litigation section of a law firm and was frequently involved in its in-house education and training programs. The firm has now asked the judge as to his/her availability to teach a Continuing Legal Education course for its more junior litigation associates. The purpose of such instruction "would be to sharpen the legal writing and advocacy skills of [its] young associates, many of whom get very little actual courtroom experience."
It is the opinion of the Committee that the judge should not teach a Continuing Legal Education course in legal skills on behalf of a law firm's associates even if the law firm does not have cases pending in the judge's court. It is quite true, as the inquirer notes, that judges may teach, write and speak on matters concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice and be compensated for such activities. 22 NYCRR 100.4(B); 100.4(H)(1). And, while such services are generally in connection with non-profit organizations, admittedly there may be special circumstances which permit a full-time judge to engage in such an activity involving a profit-making entity. See Opinions 96-143 (Vol. XV), 90-204 (Vol. VII); compare Opinion 98-121 (Vol. XVII). But that is not our prime concern in this instance. For what is dispositive is the fact that the judge is performing such a service on behalf of, not merely a profit-making entity, but a law firm. Certainly, neither this firm nor any other is dependent upon a particular judge's availability in order to obtain adequate instruction for its junior associates. Other vehicles exist for such purposes, and, indeed, no claim of necessity or lack of alternatives is made.
In our view, a full-time judge may not be a provider of instruction in legal writing and advocacy skills to a private law firm. Engaging in such a practice would associate the judge with the competence of a private law firm and would serve the exclusive interests of that firm (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]), rather than the common professional interests of a heterogeneous, unconnected group of lawyers, who, in a different setting, under different auspices, might be the beneficiaries of a judge's lecture on legal practice, e.g., at a bar association program. Entering into an arrangement where the judge is providing the benefit of his or her judicial knowledge, expertise and experience to the lawyers of a particular firm and that firm alone is, in our opinion, an extra-judicial activity which is incompatible with judicial office and thus prohibited under section 100.4(A)(3) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. To receive compensation for such services would also "give the appearance of impropriety" and is likewise impermissible under section 100.4(1) of the Rules. We therefore conclude that it would be unethical for the judge to provide instruction in legal writing and advocacy skills to a law firm's associates.