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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.

For more legal tips on our blog, check out Tips for Young Litigators and Creating Opportunities in your Legal Career.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic that forced much of the world into a stand-still, many law firms posted double-digit gains in revenue and profits per equity partner. A common factor in these law firms not just surviving but thriving included a strategic plan and commitment to a culture of high-performance, according to a study by a law firm consulting group.

 

Strategic Plans

 

According to a Law.com article, the law firm consulting company Zeughauser Group (“ZG”) notes that there are traits that are commonly shared by outperforming law firms. In regards to strategic planning, these are generally an reasonably attainable yet aspirational vision of what the law firm partners want to build together. The plan also includes clear priorities for the firm’s partners as well as goals for achieving them. According to ZG, successful firms have a clear understanding of their current market position as well as a clear understanding of the market position they want to achieve.

 

Not surprisingly, a majority of law firms have to build a consensus — obtaining input from the firm’s informal and formal leaders as well as respond to their concerns — while developing their strategic plan. If law firms share data indicating where the business stands, the benefits of market leadership in particular areas of focus, and other aspects will help the firm succeed.

 

Compensating High Performers

 

ZG further learned from its analysis that law firms that outperform others in their market often prioritize the interests of their high-performing partners. This often includes law firms ensuring that top contributors are compensation in a manner that at a minimum remains competitive with the market. ZG further noted that some law firms took the economic unknown regarding COVID-19 to reallocate funds as well as compensating high performers. The continued uncertainty has provided other law firms the opportunity to do the same.

 

Moreover, outperforming law firms both set and communicate clear expectations for what is required to become and stay a partner, according to the article. These expectations are several including producing, originating cases, managing teams across practices, managing teams across offices, and obtaining client-pleasing results. Moreover, outperforming law firms encourage those who do not measure up to those expectations to find other positions inside or out of the firm.

 

Other Traits

 

Other characteristics of law firms that are outperforming their counterparts in the legal field includes firms that have a deep and thorough knowledge of the firm’s markets. They also have a clear and focused understanding of the competitions. Most important, these firms are able to recognize and embrace market shifts as well as prioritize where they focus on excellence.

 

As a result, many lawyers at Biglaw are not concerned about their job security (while many Americans are) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, many lawyers are collecting large bonuses because these firms have excelled financially in 2020 and are projected to continue to do so in 2021. This success and stability can be attributable to many factors including an attorney’s ability to work from home easily, having business revenue from a diverse range of industries, focusing on varied practice areas, and a significant reduction in travel expenses. According to a Wells Fargo Survey reported by the Wall Street Journal (“WSJ”), of the 125 firms surveyed their revenue increased an average of 6.4 percent in the first half of 2020 when compared to the prior year despite demand being roughly the same. Net income rose 25.6% in 2020 when compared to 2019.

There is no way that we can get away from our online personas, whether we like it or not. When it comes to attorneys, however, getting hired by a potential client is the result of one click and one page of search engines. Oftentimes, the internet is the first and possibly the only chance for an attorney to showcase his or her credibility and experience to a potential client. It is no exaggeration that the internet has made it a more competitive market to capture clients in industries across the board, and the legal field is no exception to this trend. For this reason, a lawyer’s online reputation is critical. Below is some information on how attorneys can improve their image on the internet, according to the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Journal.

Reputation Management

Whether or not you are an attorney seeking clients, online reputation management is a critical aspect of any business. For lawyers, potential clients are particularly careful and diligent about using information found online so that they can choose an attorney whom they can trust and is worthy of their money and time. According to iLawyerMarketing, as many as 98% of potential clients perform online searches, primarily on Google, and look at reviews prior to deciding to hire an attorney. A prior study found that if reviews for one attorney are higher or better than another, a potential client was willing to travel further to meet with that attorney at his or her office.

Not surprisingly, the best way to defend your online reputation is to have a strategic offense. Three steps you can take today to improve this include:

 

Monitor, monitor, monitor: Perform a search of yourself and/or your firm and pay close attention to the content on the first couple of pages that appear. Data shows that most people stay on the first Google search page, while 75% on the first one or two results of that page, and only 7% move on past the first page. Controlling your top results will provide a good first impression to others. Ways you can monitor your online reputation include:

 

 Ask for client reviews: Unfortunately, one bad online review can have long-term negative effects on your firm’s reputation. Because attorneys have several profession-specific review sites, such as Avvo, FindLaw, Martindale-Hubell, and Lawyers.com, they must be regularly updated. Many attorney review sites allow lawyers to claim their own profiles and add content to show off practice focus areas and expertise. Attorneys can encourage clients to leave online reviews of the legal work performed including:

  • Star ratings of service;
  • Sharing feedback of experience with attorney;
  • Stating whether they would hire you again.

 

Crank out content: In order to stand out on the first page of a Google search, your website must be professional and highlight your legal specialties. In addition to this, however, an attorney can and should regularly contribute to the industry. This can include legal blogs, bylined articles, op-eds, links to recent interviews, feature articles, and brief commentary to name a few. This is because thoughtful content in nearly any form can directly impact lead generation. Research by marketing firm Impact revealed that firms with online content generate nearly 90% more leads than those without it.

 

For more information on this topic, visit the ABA Journal website.

For additional legal career articles, check out Creating opportunities in your legal career in 2021