Virtual Offices may Violate Ethics Rules

Recent technological advances have made it relatively easy for professionals to maintain a virtual office. A wireless connection may be all that is needed to practice, without the stress of lease payments, utilities, commuting expenses and other costs. Some attorneys have taken advantage of technology to maintain out-of-state offices in order to appeal to a larger client base. But, despite the various temptations to utilize a virtual office, there are serious risks of doing so.

Don’t tear up your office lease just yet. Even though …

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Transfer of Malpractice Claims? Sometimes…

Many states do not permit the assignment of legal malpractice claims. This anti-assignment rule is based on the well-rooted policy that legal malpractice claims are uniquely personal and therefore cannot be assigned. Since malpractice claims typically involve the nature of the attorney’s duty to the client and the confidentiality of the attorney-client relationship, the theory goes that malpractice claims should not be subject to assignment out of fear of creating a “market” for these claims to the highest bidder. A recent decision suggests …

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Who Can Sue Me? Liability to Non-Clients

Generally an attorney only owes a duty of care to her client. Thus, a predicate to a meritorious legal malpractice action is the existence of an attorney-client relationship. But, identifying this relationship and determining to whom that duty extends is not simple. A recent decision demonstrates that an attorney may be exposed to malpractice based on the expectations of non-clients.

In Pete v. Anderson, (Nov. 21, 2013) the Kentucky Supreme Court considered whether the children of a man who died in an auto accident …

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Tripartite Relationship Put to the Test

The so-called “tripartite” relationship exists when an insurer retains defense counsel to represent the interests of the insured. Against this backdrop, it is relatively uncommon for an insurer to maintain a successful claim against defense counsel. In the majority of states, direct malpractice claims by an insurer are disfavored. The theory behind these decisions stems from the sanctity of the attorney-client relationship and a hesitation to interfere with defense counsel’s duty to the insured in the tripartite scenario. Accordingly, few claims of this nature succeed. …

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Dual Representation Leads to Malpractice

We previously discussed the potential for a conflict arising when an attorney represents an employer and possibly an employee in the context of the Penn State/Sandusky scandal. The issue for the attorney is to delineate whether she represents the employer, the employee or both. An attorney cannot wear all the hats and therefore must disclose to an employee the possibility of a conflict. A recent decision from the California Court of Appeals demonstrates how easily a conflict may arise in this scenario.

In Yanez v.

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Attorneys: Don’t be Michael Scott

There’s a great scene from the Office when Michael Scott continues to blindly follow his obviously incorrect GPS device until he has driven his car into a lake. Don’t be Michael Scott. There are times when an attorney must stop and question the client when the representation reaches an uncomfortable level or the attorney suspects wrongdoing.

We’ve previously discussed the allocation of authority between attorney and client. A more recent example of attorney misconduct highlights the potential for ethical ramifications when an attorney blindly relies …

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Who’s the Boss: Attorney or Client?

Communication is a key to a healthy attorney-client relationship. Client input is critical for the attorney to develop an understanding of the underlying events and the client’s goals. However, when it comes to litigation strategy, the attorney must tread carefully when the client disagrees with the suggested approach. In this scenario, who’s the boss? By one account, the “scope of representation” is one of the “thorniest issues involved in legal practice” yet it is widely misunderstood. Often, the attorney who understands the ethical principles …

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Groupon for Professionals? Ok, but Risky

Group coupon websites are a popular marketing ploy among a variety of service providers.  The concept behind Groupon, Living Social, and similar sites is for consumers to select from local deals for discounted services.  Typically, once a threshold number of coupons are sold, the service provider and the website share the proceeds. The professional liability community has caught on to this marketing trend and is taking notice.  However, be aware professionals; utilizing similar group coupon sites is risky due to ethical limitations.

The …

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Exposure to Disciplinary Action Away From Home

In most circumstances an attorney may only practice law in jurisdictions where she is licensed.  Practicing law in a foreign jurisdiction may expose the professional to prosecution for the unauthorized practice of law.  The Ohio Supreme Court recently considered whether an attorney who is not licensed to practice in the jurisdiction is subject to the forum state’s disciplinary authority in Disciplinary Counsel v. Harris, 2013-Ohio-4026 (Ohio Sept. 26, 2013)

In Harris, the defendant attorney was a member of the DC bar.  Although he …

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The Ethics of Billing During Travel

Client billing and fee disputes are at the heart of a significant percentage of all malpractice claims brought against attorneys each year.  There are myriad courses and guides for ethical billing available for all professionals yet lawsuits and administrative complaints abound regarding billing issues. However, even the most well-intentioned attorneys encounter situations where the “rules” of client billing are not crystal clear; perhaps none moreso than the debate regarding billing for travel.

Reportedly, in 1965 law firm associates billed approximately 1500 hours annually whereas …

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