“Trust me, I’m a lawyer”

Attorneys are people too. In the midst of negotiating/litigating on behalf of clients, attorneys also manage their own day-to-day lives. Attorneys sign leases, enter into contracts, negotiate with vendors and otherwise engage in discussions that are personal in nature. It may be tempting for attorneys to seek leverage by boasting their title as “esquire” or to disclose the attorney’s affiliation with a particular law firm. But, to do so may trigger legal and ethical implications.

In a recently filed complaint in the Eastern District of …

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Guilty by Law Office Association

It’s not uncommon for small or solo attorneys to join together with others to share in operating and overhead costs of running a law firm.  Attorneys can sometimes share office space, personnel and equipment yet run completely different practices independent of each other.  However, what happens when one attorney is sued?  Can any of the other attorneys also be held liable? Of course not, right? Well, according to a decision out of Tennessee it’s not entirely out of the question.

Wildasin v. Mathes, arose …

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Lawyer Sanctioned for Employee’s Misconduct

An attorney can’t be held accountable for her client’s breach of the Rules of Professional Conduct, right? Wrong. Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.15 provides that a lawyer cannot commingle a client’s property (i.e. money) with the lawyer’s. Seems simple enough: don’t mix personal with business.  However, what happens when the lawyer complies with this standard but her employee doesn’t?  According to a Texas state court, the lawyer is still responsible.

A Texas attorney was recently sanctioned and then temporarily banned from practicing law because …

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Professional Liability for Employee Misconduct

Professionals are often entrusted with access to personal and financial information from their clients.  Professionals take great care to ensure that they protect this information from disclosure and that they comply with ethical guidelines regarding proper use of client funds.  However, even when professionals fully comply with the rules, there may be occasions where employees or other individuals who have access to the information through their professional employer use it for an improper purpose.  While professionals cannot always prevent employee misconduct, the actions they take …

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Initial Consult Fee ≠ A/C Relationship

We recently addressed the ethical implications of the initial, would-be client interview. As we discussed, the lawyer owes certain duties to a potential client and those duties vary from those owed to former and current clients.  Whether an attorney-client relationship is actually formed can dictate whether a lawyer has a conflict of interest down the road when representing a new client.  A recent decision out of the North Dakota Supreme court illustrates this concept.

The case centered around a child custody dispute.  The family law …

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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 …

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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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