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Ethical Issues Raised About Nonlawyer Law Firm CEOs

Philadelphia Business Journal

February 17, 2012

The recent appointment of a nonlawyer as CEO of Pepper Hamilton has many concerned about the ethical issues and business implications that will arise from such a hire.

Scott Vernick noted its difficulties, stating that nonlawyers would not be able to decide professional responsibility issues, at least not without the help of the firm’s general counsel or other lawyers. He also said lawyers should be careful about sharing privileged client information with a nonlawyer, even the firm CEO, as it could remove the attorney-client privilege when a case reaches a courtroom.

“We are still a profession because we regulate ourselves,” Vernick said. “We answer to the Supreme Court. We maintain our professional independence by regulating ourselves and by not having nonlawyer owners.”

“But you have to have the appropriate skill sets to run a law firm in this new world,” Vernick said. “And that means professional managers with real business management skill sets.”

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