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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.

Despite the world continuing the second year of a global pandemic, there are ways to create opportunities for your legal career in 2021, according to an article published by the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Journal. The feature is based on an interview of a co-founder and CEO of a legal recruiting firm and provides great tips on how to move your career forward even in today’s environment.

 

Tips to Follow

 

According to a leading legal recruiter, the industry has changed significantly over the past few decades. One pivotal factor in this change was the birth of social networks. 20 years ago, the recruiting business was paper-based and time-consuming. Online recruiting tools did not exist and LinkedIn — a huge game changer in career development — had yet to be born. Couple this with a significant change in how people communicate and the speed in which a recruiter must identify and coordinate with candidates is critical.

 

Important trends in the legal recruiting industry, according to the ABA Journal interview include:

 

  • Positions in highest demand: While demand does change from year to year, as of early 2021 the most important positions are focused on revenue generation. This is because businesses are seeking income — which is important even when times are good — due to the global pandemic’s impact on their organizations. For these reasons hot jobs include strong sales professionals, those with data privacy experience, as well as project managers.
  • Qualities and experience employers want: Many companies are not just looking for talent that will strengthen their business and its teams, but they also want stability. This means that individuals who may have job hopped throughout their career may be less attractive to a potential employer. Likewise, companies are considering a candidate’s ability to embrace the culture as an important hiring factor. Some companies are being even more cautious on who they bring into the remote work environment.
  • Career advancement: Company leaders, department heads, recruiters, and talent managers all look at LinkedIn first to make an initial decision on a candidate, so make sure your profile is perfected. This means highlighting key areas that are attractive to potential employers, modeling your description after those you want to emulate, sharing personal interests that may relate to the role, and obtaining certifications or other skills if appropriate.
  • Interviewing tips: During an interview, be sure to emphasize how you fit with the company based on your background, experience, and interests in addition to your skills. Come into the conversation with familiarity with the organization and its team so you can highlight your compatibilities. Finally, because stability is important, if you get the job and it is challenging, try to find ways to adapt instead of leaving. Try to stay in any role for at least two years — but three years is better.

 

The entirety of the interview can be accessed at Reinventing Professionals.

 

It is not uncommon to feel intimidated by litigation and legal advocacy, especially if you are a new lawyer. No matter how much exposure a law student has — such as trial advocacy, moot court, judicial clerkships, or advice from seasoned attorneys and law professors — nothing truly prepares you for “real world” lawyering. Below are some helpful tips, according to the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Journal for aspiring litigators as they start their journey and career in the courtroom.

  • Manage your caseload: Deadlines are the driving force of litigating. New and young associates are expected to keep ahead of all pending deadlines. They must do so for their own cases as well as for their firm’s partners. This includes court appearances, expert reports, discovery demands, depositions, and trial dates. You must be extremely organized to avoid mistakes. Remember that while assistants calendar deadlines, at the end of the day it is the attorney’s ultimate responsibility to properly handle a client’s case.
  • Always be prepared: Be prepared from the initial consultation through the finalization of the case. Having a form document for consultations will help you better assess a potential client’s case. Once you are working on a case, make sure to familiarize yourself with the file. Speak with the client often to make sure you are managing expectations. Also, get to know the judge on the case and learn his or her idiosyncrasies. Also know the applicable case law and relevant statutes for your client’s matter. Finally, trust that your preparation and instincts will help you overcome surprises.
  • Protect your reputation: Understand that an attorney’s reputation is key to his or her legal career. Your behavior, words, and professionalism will affect not just your reputation, but that of your client and your firm. And, depending on your area of practice, the legal community can be a small one. While litigation can involve conflict, stress, and emotions, do not let the deteriorating relationship between the parties in the lawsuit affect your behavior. Understand that zealous advocacy and legal representation can coexist with professional courtesy, adherence to the rules and law, and fair tactics. Also, be on time so that you do not upset the other side or even face sanctions.

Takeaway

 

Although you may be early in your legal career, trust your instincts and the quality of your work product. Get with a mentor and learn as much as possible from him or her, even when the advice is hard to listen to. Following the above tips will help start your legal journey and keep you on the right path for years to come.
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