The Delaney Decision – The NJ Advisory Committee’s Redux

The Supreme Court of New Jersey recently issued its ruling and opinion in the closely watched case of Delaney v. Trent S. Dickey and Sills Cummins & Gross, P.C. (Dec. 21, 2020)(“Sills”), relating to enforcement of a mandatory arbitration agreement in the Sills engagement letter. The Court refused to compel arbitration in that case because Sills had not adequately communicated with its client about the risks and benefits of agreeing to mandatory arbitration in order to make an informed decision. The Court did not go so far as to declare all mandatory arbitration provisions in engagement letters unenforceable, as some feared it might, but it requested additional guidance from the New Jersey Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics on the scope of an attorney’s disclosure requirements in this context.

On January 18, 2022, the Advisory Committee did that and more. The Committee expanded the scope of its mandate by asking the Court to reconsider its decision in Delaney and pronounce that New Jersey lawyers are prohibited from including mandatory arbitration provisions in their engagement agreements, even with appropriate disclosures and counseling. The Committee further proposed uniform guidelines for a separate rider addressing arbitration provisions and stressed the need for oral discussion with a client and recommendation to seek review by independent counsel.

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