Serving on Boards: Blurred Lines May Blind Lawyers to the Risks

Serving on Boards: Blurred Lines May Blind Lawyers to the Risks

March 21, 2023 David Lipson


Lawyers serving on a board of directors may derive many benefits from such service, including honing one’s business skills, developing professional relationships, enjoying the prestige and recognition of board membership, and strengthening the lawyer’s ties with an existing or potential law firm client. Lawyers contemplating board service must weigh the potential benefits against the risks inherent in such appointments prior to acceptance and throughout the tenure of any board service. Ambiguity concerning the lawyer-director’s precise role, as well as inattention to conflicts of interest and other liability issues may lead to negative consequences for the company, the lawyer’s law firm, and the lawyer herself.

There is no rule or law that prohibits lawyers from simultaneously serving as legal counsel and board members for an organization. Comment 35 to ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct [“ABA MRPC”] Rule 1.7 cautions, however, that if “there is a material risk that the dual role will compromise the lawyer’s independence of professional judgment, the lawyer should not serve as a director or should cease to act as the corporation’s lawyer when conflicts of interest arise.” Moreover, if the lawyer contemplating board service determines that conflicts probably would arise frequently and be significant, the lawyer should either decline the offer to serve as a board member or decline to represent the company as legal counsel.

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