Attorney Suspended for Online Spat with Clients

Many of us are perfectly comfortable publishing to an anonymous, online audience what we ate for dinner, our political views, relationship status, the argument we had with a cashier, or other personal details. This is not uncommon on various forms of social networking. But, when it comes to professional relationships, there are rules to follow. As a result, today's professionals must pause before airing dirty laundry concerning a client or former client. Doing so risks violating ethical duties to former clients of confidentiality and can impair reputations.
Continue reading...

The Ethics of Professional Crowdfunding

Starting up a successful professional practice requires ingenuity, business acumen, and a passion for the profession, but it also requires cash. In order to overcome financial barriers, some entrepreneurial professionals have looked to crowdfunding as an alternative method for raising capital. By utilizing social media and dedicated crowdfunding websites, professionals are now in a stronger position than ever to pitch their brand and solicit donations from large numbers of individuals in the general public. Crowdfunding offers the promise of a quick source of revenue, but may also implicate possible ethics concerns that could prove costly to professionals in the long term.
Continue reading...

Fired but Still on the Hook

Most attorneys don’t end their careers in the same place they started. Rather, many attorneys make a move or two which may require the transfer of files and clients. When an attorney transfers a file to a new firm, the prior firm must maintain certain ethical obligations. Model RPC 1.16 provides that a lawyer must provide notice when terminating a representation and take steps to the extent reasonably practicable to protect a client's interests. Therefore, professional obligations are not always terminated as soon as the client ends the relationship. The following example demonstrates how failure to timely withdraw from a case after the attorney-client relationship ended resulted in a claim of malpractice.
Continue reading...

Conflict Check for Would-be Clients?

Attorneys put food on the table by converting would-be clients into actual clients. However, the astute attorney knows which engagements are not worth pursuing and when to decline representation. The careful attorney knows that even the initial client interview will trigger ethical obligations. To be clear, an attorney’s ethical responsibilities kick even before there is an attorney-client relationship. While most attorneys probably are aware of this general principle, it’s less likely that most engage in best practices during the client intake process.
Continue reading...

A Caution against Threats of Disciplinary Action

The judicial process is adversarial by definition. That doesn't necessarily mean that every case is contentious but many are. In these cases, particularly when emotions are involved, attorneys and their clients often feel strongly that they have been wronged and search for opportunities to be vindicated. When an attorney believes that the other side is asserting a frivolous claim or acting with an improper purpose it may be tempting to raise the prospect of filing a disciplinary action against the opposing lawyer. However, attorneys must tread cautiously when threatening disciplinary action in litigation. Doing so could violate ethics rules and potentially result in disciplinary action against the attorney making the claim.
Continue reading...

In-House Counsel Fired for Compliance with Ethical Rules

Ever hear the joke about the in-house attorney who was fired for complying with the Rules of Professional Conduct? It’s no joke. Model Rule 1.13(b) provides that if in-house counsel knows that an employee is violating a law that may be imputed to the employer, the lawyer must proceed in the best interest of the employer. But, complying with that rule may result in backlash for the attorney. Take for example the following case, in which the Utah Supreme Court considered whether the rule creates a public policy exception to at-will employment to prevent companies from terminating in-house counsel for reporting illegal activity to management.
Continue reading...

Lessons from a Bravo Star’s Malpractice Suit

Clients will usually say “Bravo!” when you exhibit diligence, zealous advocacy, and candor in your legal representation. But what happens when a client makes a misrepresentation to you or engages in criminal or fraudulent conduct during the course of your representation? What are your duties with regard to assessing the validity of a client’s statements, or the legality of their actions? A recent legal malpractice lawsuit filed by imprisoned “Real Housewives of New Jersey” star Teresa Giudice has thrown these questions into the limelight.
Continue reading...

Client Communication: What’s Enough/Too Much?

The duty to communicate is essential to every aspect of the fiduciary duty a lawyer owes to the client. Proper communication ensures that we are identifying and serving our clients’ interests. It’s possible today to be technically “available” to clients 24-7. But how much availability is required, and where is the line? That’s the subject of a recent ethics case against a Texas attorney, resulting in sanctions for unreasonably ignoring a client.
Continue reading...

Ahoy! Attorney Sunk by File Transfer In Shipwreck Case

Much of our discussion at PLM revolves around duties to clients during the time of representation. However, your professional duties and ethical obligations to a client do not end when the engagement ceases. As illustrated by one recent swashbuckling tale, an attorney has a duty to provide a former client with that client’s file, and may not withhold these materials to leverage other benefits, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the end of the engagement.
Continue reading...

Attorneys Admonished for Settlement Posturing

Attorneys have a duty to act as zealous advocates for their clients. This duty is particularly important during settlement negotiations, where counsel’s strategy and negotiation skills play a significant role in achieving a favorable result. However, settlement statements that are intended to deceive one’s adversary can quickly cross the line from permissible posturing to unethical misrepresentations of fact.
Continue reading...