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 …

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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.

The New York …

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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.

The Texas Commissioner for Lawyer Discipline’s petition alleged that the attorney failed to …

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Liability for Delegated Tasks

We’ve previously touched on the risks of delegation. Although most of the LPL cases we discuss involve an attorney’s own, direct negligence, an attorney may be responsible for delegating tasks to others.  Can the delegating attorney avoid liability because the alleged negligence was committed by someone else? According to a recent South Carolina opinion, the answer is no.

In Johnson v. Amber, plaintiff alleged that her attorney breached his duty of care by failing to discover the house she purchased had been sold at …

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Less is More: Lengthy Pleadings Draw Judicial Ire

Federal rules require plaintiffs in a civil action to submit a short and plain statement of the claim showing that she is entitled to relief.  Nevertheless, attorneys often feel compelled to develop their arguments through protracted complaints, and to support their claims with copious exhibits.  In complex cases, thorough pleadings may be necessary to sustain a claim.  However, in the majority of cases, such extensive pleading may produce irrelevant and redundant content that violates court rules and ultimately detracts from the issues at hand.

A …

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Case Analysis: Defamation and Blogs

In the age of lawyering we now live in, law firms frequently use blog posts, Twitter and newsletters as a marketing tool and to provide content of interest to clients or prospective clients.  These blogs and postings have become a tool not only for “reporting” in the broad sense, but also of showcasing an attorney’s depth of knowledge about a particular subject, and the fact that they have their fingers on the “pulse” of legal developments in their field as they happen.  While blogging, tweeting, …

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Ain’t Nothin’ But A “G”ift Thing – Ethics of Accepting Client Gifts

Rapper Dr. Dre recently made headlines when he gifted each member of his legal team a holiday “bonus,” in sums of $10,000 and up.  While undoubtedly very generous, is such a grand gesture from a client to an attorney ethically permissible? It depends.

Model Rule 1.8(c) permits an attorney to accept a gift from a client, if the gift “meets general standards of fairness.”  Simple gifts, like a fruit basket at a holiday or a bottle of champagne as a thank you, are permitted.  If …

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My Colleague’s Keeper: Duties of Subordinate Attorneys

Our prior posts in this three-part series have explored the benefits of the law firm structure and the responsibilities of supervising attorneys at a firm.  In the conclusion of this series, we turn to another integral part of a law firm’s structure: subordinate attorneys and their duties and responsibilities with regard to taking directives from supervisors when ethical questions are implicated.

Subordinate attorneys are bound to follow all ethical rules, even if their supervisors fail to do so.  Rule 5.2(a) is clear that a subordinate …

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My Colleague’s Keeper – Benefits & Pitfalls of Law Firm Structures (Part II)

Monitoring Matters: In the first portion of this series, we examined how a recent New Jersey case highlighted the benefits of the law firm structure. Next we explore the risks, and responsibilities, of a supervising attorney at a law firm. Often, a good team is the most critical component of producing excellent services.  A well-trained, productive, and properly supervised staff is undoubtedly an asset, but delegating to your team can present its own challenges.  With this in mind, it is important for any attorney with …

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My Colleague’s Keeper – Benefits & Pitfalls of Law Firm Structures

There are many benefits to working in a professional firm including the ability to collaborate and seek support from colleagues. Teamwork amongst colleagues may improve efficiency, innovation, flexibility and branding.  But, through the doctrine of vicarious liability, a professional may be liable for her colleague’s conduct in certain situations. There are various corporate models intended in part at protecting an individual for corporate (mis)conduct.  But these models are not bulletproof.  A recent New Jersey decision emphasizes the double-edged nature of practice in a professional corporation …

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