Ethics of Practicing Law in a Digital World

Course Title: Ethics of Practicing Law in a Digital World  

Course Description: 

This course will examine ethics issues related to the use of technology in law practice by starting with a discussion of the work of the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 and its recent changes to the model rules. The course will cover severall of the commission's reports and responses from the legal community related to such issues as the use of the Internet for client development, the use of cloud-based outsourcing by a law firm, new online methods of lawyer advertising, concepts of "virtual presence", duties to prospective clients when interacting online, the effects of UPL on multi-jursidictional virtual law firms, etc. Specific state ethics opinions and disciplinary cases related to the use of technology in law practice will be covered. 

By the end of this course, participants will be able to:

  • Choose technology applications for a law practice that comply with ABA and state(s) bar rules of professional conduct.
  • Be familiar with the existing state ethics opinions related to the use of technology in law practice and learn how those apply to the practical side of practice management. 
  • Analyze the terms of use and service level agreements for technology applications. Learn what features need to be in those agreements and how to negotiate with vendors or make requests for policies needed to be ethically compliant.
  • Ethically manage relationships with and supervision of technology vendors, third-party providers of cloud-based services, and outsourcing services.
  • Specific ethics issues that the students will understand, among others, include:
    • How to establish the attorney/client relationship online.
    • How to authenticate client identity online and determine issues of competency.
    • How to ethically handle billing and collections procedures with third-party credit card processing and online practice management systems.
    • How to work with clients through online branded networks and their tech tools to comply with advertising rules.
    • How to handle UPL issues in delivering services online and if in a multijurisdictional law firm.
    • A solid understanding of how the following ABA Model Rules among others apply to the use of tech in law practice: 1.1, 1.2, 1.6, 5.3, 5.4, and 7.1-7.5.



Faculty- William Hornsby

J.D., DePaul University College of Law;
M.S  Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
B.S. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 

Will Hornsby has served as staff counsel at the American Bar Association since 1988. He has provided support for the Commission on Advertising from 1990 until the Commission was sunset by the ABA in 2002. He has also provided staffing for the Standing Committee on Professionalism, the Committee on Research on the Future of the Law, the ABA Presidential Commission on Access to Justice and the Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services.

Will has authored an array of materials including books, white papers and law review articles. Notably, he has written: 

Marketing and Legal Ethics: The Boundaries of Promoting Legal Services, published by the ABA Law Practice Management Section in 2000;

-Lawyer Advertising at the Crossroads: Professional Policy Considerations, published by the ABA Commission on Advertising in 1995; 

Clashes of Class and Cash: Battles for the 150 Years War to Govern Client Development, 37 Ariz. St. Law J. 255 (2005); 

Ad Rules Infinitum: The Need for Alternatives to State-based Ethics Governing Legal Services Marketing, 36 Univ. of Richmond L. Rev. 49 (2002) 

He has also spoken on issues of client development, technology and ethics in variety of settings, including:

-The 2005 American Bar Association Annual Meeting, TTIPS workshop on the ethics of technology;

-The 2005 ATLA Annual Meeting Marketing Seminar on the ethics of client development;

-The 2004 Arizona State University Law Journal Symposium on Lawyer Advertising;

-The 20th Annual Jefferson B. Fordham Debate at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, University of Utah; and

Will is also an adjunct professor at the John Marshall Law School Center for Information and Privacy Law, where he teaches the nation's first course on the professional responsibility of a technology-based law practice. 

He is also a hearing panel chair for the Illinois Registration and Disciplinary Commission, where he hears disciplinary complaints against Illinois lawyers.