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Court Amends Rules of Professional Conduct to Reference UJS’ Public Access Policy

By Order dated April 23, 2018, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania amended Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1, relating to attorney competence, and 1.6, relating to confidentiality. By Order of January 6, 2017, the Court approved the Public Access Policy of the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania (“policy”) for case records filed in and maintained by the appellate and trial courts, which makes such records open and accessible to the public.* Attorneys must familiarize themselves with and abide by the new policy, which places responsibility upon attorneys to safeguard confidential information in the documents they file with the courts. Specifically, policy sections 7.0(D) and 8.0(D) require parties and their attorneys to certify compliance with the policy. Additionally, policy sections 7.0(F) and 8.0(F) provide that a court may sanction non-compliant parties. The policy represents a significant move to create a uniform standard for treatment of confidential information and confidential documents in the Commonwealth’s courts.

RPC 1.1 requires a lawyer to provide competent representation to a client, which entails the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for representation. Previously, comment [8] to RPC 1.1 explained that in order to maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice. The amendment to the comment advises a lawyer that competent representation includes familiarity with the policies and rules of courts in which the lawyer practices, which include the Case Records Public Access Policy of the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania.

RPC 1.6(d) requires a lawyer to make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client. The amendment to Comment [25] advises that a lawyer should act in accordance with court policies governing disclosure of sensitive or confidential information, including the Case Records Public Access Policy of the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania.

The effective date of these amendments is July 1, 2018.

* Per Order dated March 28, 2018, the Court amended the policy to reflect that all minor courts are included within the scope of the Policy and changed the name of the policy to Case Records Public Access Policy of the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania. Pursuant to the Order, the original Order remains in effect until July 1, 2018, at which time the new Policy will become effective.

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