Accomplished. Ethical. Experienced.

Photo of attorney Thomas L. Rouse at court

Ethics Counsel

At the conclusion of 25 consecutive years of service to the lawyers of the Commonwealth of Kentucky as an Ethics Hotline contact, as a member of the Kentucky Bar Association Board of Governors and as the President of the KBA, I am devoting a significant portion of my law practice to the ‘Law of Lawyering. I offer my services to be your ‘Ethics Counsel.’

The larger law firms have developed the in-house position of ethics counsel to the firm and its members. This is among the reasons members of larger law firms rarely appear in reported discipline cases. Firm members have resources available to them while sole practitioners and small association attorneys seem to go it alone. The solo/small-firm segment of the bar is in need of wise counsel, service and representation. In a small practice, the chaos caused by client issues, fee issues, bar complaints and negligence claims place into danger what attorneys have worked long and hard to build.

The in-house ethics counsel system can also create unique complexities and conflicts that often require outside, independent assistance.

I offer my services to all attorneys. I offer a strong understanding of confidentiality and attorney-client privilege. I intend to offer competent advice, fully aware of the difficulty in interpreting the Rules of Professional Conduct in the context of real-world ethical dilemmas. The solo/small-firm sector needs Counsel for guidance through the gray areas of professional responsibilities to a path more likely to lead to a favorable result. Attorneys need competent Counsel to assist in making and following through on the difficult decisions required to comply with the highest ethical standards. These kinds of assistance are not afforded through ethics hotline services.

I would be honored to be of assistance to you and to be your Ethics Counsel.

Background And Experience

As your Ethics Counsel, I bring a unique set of qualifications to your side. Few practicing attorneys can cite experience as deep and broad as I have, and few, if any, have served their profession as I have.

I served as President of the Kentucky Bar Association in 2013-14. This position required comprehensive and intimate knowledge of how the KBA works, of its various departments and personnel, and the KBA’s strengths and weaknesses. I was the presiding officer in dozens of disciplinary charge presentations, oral arguments and appeals. I also presided in matters during my term as Vice President when the sitting President was recused due to conflicts. Multiple recommendations in formal discipline matters were sent to the Supreme Court over my signature.

During my year as Immediate Past President, my duty was to review all consensual discipline requests, or ‘plea bargains,’ and give my consent before the arrangement was sent to the Supreme Court for final review and approval. This afforded me another look inside the discipline system that few ever experience.

From 2005 until becoming Vice President in 2011, I was a member of the Board of Governors. This body is responsible for the Association’s budget and financial status, all of the programs it offers, the appeals from the decisions of the CLE Commission and the Advertising Commission, and the oversight of the KBA Departments and staff. Most importantly the Board is required by Supreme Court Rule to act in an appellate capacity in discipline cases. The Board considers appeals from Trial Commissioner decisions and recommendations. It considers all the default cases. These Board actions are then sent to the Supreme Court for deliberation and the final decision.

While a member of the Board of Governors, I served as a member of the Board’s Rules Committee. This body studies proposals for and makes recommendations regarding modifications to the Supreme Court’s Rules, including the Rules of Professional Conduct, which regulate the practice of law in Kentucky.

I am currently a member of the Kentucky Supreme Court Rules Committee, a committee of attorneys from across the Commonwealth that reviews proposed rule changes suggested by the KBA, by individual practicing attorneys, and by interested groups such as the Kentucky Justice Association, the ACLU, etc. This committee then makes recommendations to the Court.

I became a member of the Kentucky Bar Association’s Ethics Committee in the early 1980s. This committee is charged with the responsibility of issuing formal ethics opinions on situations of importance to the practicing bar that have statewide implications. The committee studies, analyzes and discusses the more difficult situations Kentucky attorneys face and attempts to offer guidance in the form of formal ethics opinions.

In 1991 the Kentucky Supreme Court amended its rules to form the KBA’s Ethics Hotline. The purpose of the Hotline is to offer advice to requesting attorneys as to their proposed conduct in given situations. At least one Hotline member is appointed in each of the Commonwealth’s seven Supreme Court districts. I was an original member of the Hotline and served, primarily, the sixth Supreme Court district, which comprises 23 counties in northern Kentucky. Often, however, I provided opinions to attorneys all over the Commonwealth due to vacancies on the hotline and conflicts that their hotline attorney had with the situation. I served in this capacity for 15 years, having to step down from the Hotline when I became a KBA Governor. I authored approximately five written opinions per week over that 15-year period.

I am an Adjunct Professor of Law at the Salmon P Chase College of Law of Northern Kentucky University. My class is entitled ‘Applied Ethics’ and is designed to educate law students on the practical applications of the Rules of Professional Conduct to everyday practice situations. I created the class and its curriculum.

I have lectured on ethics at the University of Cincinnati College of Law and at Thomas More College. Additionally, I taught a semester of business ethics at Northern Kentucky University.

I regularly give ethics presentations at continuing legal education seminars and bar conventions. I have provided in-house continuing education presentations for law firms.

For three years, I was a member of the American Bar Association Commission on Disability Rights.

I am a member of the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers (APRL.)

I have been retained as an expert to provide advice and counsel to attorneys facing difficult ethical situations, and have been retained to analyze situations, provide opinions and, if necessary, to testify in depositions and court.

I began practicing law in Kentucky in 1978 and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1989. I am a co-founder, former Board member and past President of the Northern Kentucky Bar Association and a past President of its predecessor Kenton County Bar Association. 

Listed here are just a few of the situations where your ethics counsel could be of assistance and provide clear and concise guidance:

  • Professional negligence allegations and defense
  • Response to and defense of bar complaints and formal disciplinary charges
  • Fee disputes with clients
  • Fee disputes with other attorneys
  • Controlling the establishment of the attorney-client relationship
  • Termination of representation and the difficult client
  • Trust Account/IOLTA procedures and issues
  • Closing and selling a law practice
  • Deceased and disabled attorney practice issues
  • Changing firms, professional alliances and the departing lawyer
  • Establishing a new law practice
  • Expert professional responsibility issue analysis and testimony
  • Duties to the Court and Client in the litigation setting
  • Complying with advertising and solicitation rules
  • Fiduciary obligations
  • Internet and other social media issues