Attorneys are stewards of personal and sensitive information provided to them by clients. Lawyers are also officers of the court and are in roles of public trust. The standards placed on attorneys are high, however, and lawyers must carefully mind ethics obligations to avoid running afoul of the rules. That being said, issues can arise. Below are tips on how to avoid ethical pitfalls and disciplinary action according to the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Journal.
Tips for Lawyers
Most states across the nation require training in ethics as part of lawyers’ continuing legal education requirements. With the economic challenges that have come as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, both recently licensed and experienced attorneys have had to reevaluate how they practice — and, sometimes, even their career paths. Law school training, however, may not have properly prepared attorneys (especially newer ones) on the ethical and business related challenges typically faced in small firm or solo practice. This leaves attorneys at these sized firms — both new and veteran — in a more vulnerable place when it comes to disciplinary complaints.
- Create strong office management processes: Not only will this help make sure you can meet your clients’ needs, but a good system is critical for avoiding disciplinary issues. Basics should include a diary and docketing system to keep track of court filing deadlines, hearings, and statutes of limitations. Tickler systems for file reviews will ensure you do so at regular intervals and prevent things from slipping through the cracks;
- Intake screening is key: Learning when to accept a potential client’s case and when to reject it is important. Discerning when a potential client will be difficult is a critical skill. Know that you do not have to take every potential client’s case but, rather, you can use discretion in client selection. Undertaking matters in diverse areas of law requires you learn those areas, possibly leaving you overwhelmed or unable to develop an expertise;
- Client and third party funds are sacred: Repeat this to yourself on a daily basis. Lawyers have both a fiduciary and ethical duty to maintain, handle, and disburse client funds only for their intended purpose. These practices must be consistent with relevant rules and applicable law — so learn the trust accounting rules in your jurisdiction. Misuse of client’s funds will guarantee disciplinary action;
- Communicate often: Lack of communication is one of the top complaints made against attorneys. When an attorney does not promptly respond to a client’s emails or phone calls, they become frustrated and dissatisfied. Ethical rules require attorneys to keep a client reasonably informed about their matters and promptly comply with reasonable requests;
- Diligently follow-through: When clients’ matters are neglected, disciplinary charges often include lack of communication. If an attorney just stops working on a matter or delays his or her work, this can be a problem. Accepting a legal matter on behalf of a client requires diligent follow-through until the representation has finished.
For more legal practice tips from the ABA, click here.