Rule 5.1 Responsibilities of Principals, Managers, and Supervisory Lawyers
(a) A principal in a law firm, and a lawyer who individually or together with other lawyers possesses comparable managerial authority, shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the firm or the organization has in effect measures giving reasonable assurance that all lawyers in the firm or the organization conform to the Rules of Professional Conduct.
(b) A lawyer having direct supervisory authority over another lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the other lawyer conforms to the Rules of Professional Conduct.
(c) A lawyer shall be responsible for another lawyer's violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct if:
(1) the lawyer orders or, with knowledge of the specific conduct, ratifies the conduct involved; or
(2) the lawyer is a principal or has comparable managerial authority in the law firm in which the other lawyer practices, or has direct supervisory authority over the other lawyer, and knows of the conduct at a time when its consequences can be avoided or mitigated but fails to take reasonable remedial action to avoid the consequences.
 Paragraph (a) applies to lawyers who have managerial authority over the professional work of a firm or legal department of an organization. See Rule 1.0(d). This includes members of a partnership, the shareholders in a law firm organized as a professional corporation, and members of other associations authorized to practice law; lawyers having comparable managerial authority in a legal services organization or a law department of an enterprise or government agency; and lawyers who have intermediate managerial responsibilities in a firm. Paragraph (b) applies to lawyers who have supervisory authority over the work of other lawyers in a firm or organization.
 Paragraph (a) requires lawyers with managerial authority within a firm or organization to make reasonable efforts to establish internal policies and procedures designed to provide reasonable assurance that all lawyers in the firm or organization will conform to the Rules of Professional Conduct. Such policies and procedures include those designed to detect and resolve conflicts of interest, identify dates by which actions must be taken in pending matters, account for client funds and property and ensure that inexperienced lawyers are properly supervised.
 Other measures that may be required to fulfill the responsibility prescribed in paragraph (a) can depend on the firm's or organization's structure and the nature of its practice. In a small firm of experienced lawyers, informal supervision and periodic review of compliance with the required systems ordinarily will suffice. In a large firm or organization, or in practice situations in which difficult ethical problems frequently arise, more elaborate measures may be necessary. Some firms, for example, have a procedure whereby junior lawyers can make confidential referral of ethical problems directly to a designated principal or special committee. See Rule 5.2. Firms and organizations, whether large or small, may also rely on continuing legal education in professional ethics. In any event, the ethical atmosphere of a firm or organization can influence the conduct of all its members and the principals and managing lawyers may not assume that all lawyers associated with the firm or organization will inevitably conform to the Rules.
 Paragraph (c) expresses a general principle of personal responsibility for acts of another. See also Rule 8.4(a).
 Paragraph (c)(2) defines the duty of a principal or other lawyer having comparable managerial authority in a law firm, as well as a lawyer who has direct supervisory authority over performance of specific legal work by another lawyer. Whether a lawyer has such supervisory authority in particular circumstances is a question of fact. Principals and lawyers with comparable authority have at least indirect responsibility for all work being done by the firm, while a principal or manager in charge of a particular matter ordinarily also has supervisory responsibility for the work of other firm lawyers engaged in the matter. Appropriate remedial action by a principal or managing lawyer would depend on the immediacy of that lawyer's involvement and the seriousness of the misconduct. A supervisor is required to intervene to prevent avoidable consequences of misconduct if the supervisor knows that the misconduct occurred. Thus, if a supervising lawyer knows that a subordinate misrepresented a matter to an opposing party in negotiation, the supervisor as well as the subordinate has a duty to correct the resulting misapprehension.
 Professional misconduct by a lawyer under supervision could reveal a violation of paragraph (b) on the part of the supervisory lawyer even though it does not entail a violation of paragraph (c) because there was no direction, ratification or knowledge of the violation.
 Apart from this Rule and Rule 8.4(a), a lawyer does not have disciplinary liability for the conduct of a principal, associate or subordinate. Moreover, this Rule is not intended to establish a standard for vicarious criminal or civil liability for the acts of another lawyer. Whether a lawyer may be liable civilly or criminally for another lawyer's conduct is a question of law beyond the scope of these Rules.
 The duties imposed by this Rule on managing and supervising lawyers do not alter the personal duty of each lawyer in a firm to abide by the Rules of Professional Conduct. See Rule 5.2(a).
History Note: Statutory Authority G.S. 84-23
Adopted by the Supreme Court: July 24, 1997
Amendments Approved by the Supreme Court: March 1, 2003; September 22, 2016
Ethics Opinion Notes
2012 Formal Ethics Opinion 13. Opinion rules that the partners and managerial lawyers remaining in a firm are responsible for the safekeeping and proper disposition of both the active and closed files of a suspended, disbarred, missing, or deceased member of the firm.
2013 Formal Ethics Opinion 8. Opinion analyzes the responsibilities of the partners and supervisory lawyers in a firm when another firm lawyer has a mental impairment.
2013 Formal Ethics Opinion 9. Opinion provides guidance to lawyers who work for a public interest law organization that provides legal and non-legal services to its clientele and that has an executive director who is not a lawyer.
2015 Formal Ethics Opinion 9 . Opinion rules that a lawyer who does not own equity in a law firm may be held out to the public by the designation “partner,” “income partner,” or “non-equity partner,” provided the lawyer was officially promoted based upon legitimate criteria and the lawyer complies with the professional responsibilities arising from the designation.