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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.

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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