Professionals strive to develop a reputation within a particular field. The real success stories involve those who are known as the go-to professional for one or more situations. A problem with such success is that it may increase the risk of potential conflicts. If all clients seek the same professional for Issue X, there are bound to be conflicts down the road. In a recent case in the Southern District of Florida, one company alleged that its accountants and lawyers violated their professional duties when they provided proprietary information to a competitor.
Fee sharing is not unfamiliar to most attorneys. Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5(e) permits lawyers who are not in the same firm to share or divide a fee. A typical example is when an attorney refers a case out to “trial counsel”. But, fee sharing has its restrictions. For example, the Model Rules permit fee sharing only when the fee is reasonable, the client agrees to the arrangement and the division of the fee is proportionate to the share of each lawyer’s services or the lawyers assume joint responsibility for the representation. These requirements create ethical implications for lawyers engaged in fee sharing. Fortunately, the ABA recently provided some guidance.
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.
One of the consequences of modern technological advances is that many expect 24/7 access to their employees and outside professionals. Today there is really no such thing as unreachable and there are fewer and fewer locales that are “off the grid.” 48 hours without responding to e-mail is not acceptable to some. As a result, when business travel, vacation, or other events preclude timely e-mail responses, many employees and professionals utilize the all-too-familiar auto-reply message. However, some experts suggest that these messages carry considerable security risks.
Boston’s “Big Dig” continues to spark lawsuits 15 years after construction was completed. The most expensive US highway project – in excess of $24 billion - the Big Dig rerouted a major highway in Boston into a 3.5 mile tunnel. The project was plagued by delay, leaks, design flaws, and substandard materials. Ten years after completion of the project, in 2006, 26 tons of ceiling tiles and concrete became dislodged, fell and killed one motorist, injuring others. Reportedly, the National Transportation Safety Board blamed the collapse on faulty epoxy. In the most recent lawsuit arising from this incident, an insurance carrier sued its attorneys for malpractice for allegedly failing to disclose a conflict of interest.
It’s bound to happen…professionals make mistakes. Some of those mistakes may lead to a professional malpractice claim while others may go unnoticed, never to be heard of again. Given that most professionals cannot predict the future nor speak for their clients, professionals must timely report each mistake to her malpractice carrier pursuant to the applicable reporting deadlines because the policy may require it. Even those mistakes that seem inconsequential must be reported. The risks of failing to do so can prove to be costly.