Professional Responsibility for Small Law Firms - Strategist
Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

Recently in Professional Responsibility Category

The internet has always been a place to experiment with identity, and maybe to fudge the truth a bit. Think of the Facebook teens claiming to be experts on international politics, for example, or the divorcee looking for love on a dating website, with pictures that are a decade or so old.

That desire to embellish can sneak in to lawyer websites, too, and suddenly you're no longer a solo practitioner, you're "Lawyer and Associates;" you don't just have a family law practice, you're a leading expert in divorce. But this kind of puffery could be an ethics violation.

Even the most focused lawyer can be pulled off task by distractions, by the urgent phone call, the quick email, the glance at Facebook that turns into a few minutes of scrolling.

Such distractions are largely unavoidable. The problem is, time spent on distractions isn't billable. So how can you make sure that you're not accidentally passing the cost of that social media break or quick coffee run on to your clients? Here are some ideas.

You can bill clients for the work your student interns do, even if you pay those interns nothing. That’s the conclusion of a recent opinion from the New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Professional Ethics.

In March, the committee addressed the situation law student interns who work, for free, for local firms, in exchange for academic credit in lieu of cold hard cash. The firm could ethically bill for that student work, the committee concluded, though it emphasized that it spoke only of attorney ethics, not applicable labor law.

Maybe you helped Donald Trump close a deal on a New Jersey shopping mall. Or maybe he consulted you, way back when, for some legal advice. Now he's running for president and you want to speak out -- without revealing anything too confidential, of course. Can you?

Of course, for the vast majority of us, this is simply a hypothetical. But for some lawyers, it's a very real question -- and some lawyers have started talking publicly about their time with Trump, raising very real questions about the ethics behind discussing former clients, even when you don't reveal any non-public information.

A South Carolina ethics opinion on attorney fee-sharing should give lawyers considering fixed-fee legal referral programs like Avvo's Legal Services pause. Avvo launched ALS this January, as a sort of Uber for legal services. The service allows customers to pay for legal work by task, rather than by billable hour, with Avvo setting the prices. Reviewing a prenup costs $150, for example, incorporating an LLC costs $595. Customers purchase the service through ALS, who then pays the attorneys that actually do the work.

Avvo, of course, takes its own cut, as a marketing fee. And those fees, along with the pay-for-referral nature of the service, have just been called unethical by the South Carolina Bar's Ethics Advisory Committee.

How to Talk to Potential Clients So They Don't Proceed Pro Se

It happens to solo lawyers with an unwelcome consistency: a client walks through your door to avail himself of your legal advice and then decides to either look for cheaper options, or worse, go about his matter pro se. What do you do?

It's been more than six years since the so-called economic downturn of 2008, but many people are still unreasonably frugal. It could be that people are worried about the recent negative predictions about the market. In this climate, how do you convince these clients that going pro se could be the worst mistake of their lives?

You've Been Formally Prosecuted in State Bar Court. Now What?

You worked hard for your license to practice law. You studied the LSAT, got into school, passed the bar and passed moral character and fitness... and a single ethics violation means it could all be taken away, just like that.

It's all very scary stuff about a system that very few attorneys know about -- though it haunts our thoughts. How do ethics hearings work? What is this thing called the State Bar Court? And what happens when attorneys are prosecuted in it?

So, Your Client Complained to the State Bar. What Now?

It's doubtful that anyone got into this business to be liked. Still, client complaints are not something you ever anticipate. Complaints by clients can be disheartening and even career-threatening -- especially when the state bar gets involved.

In this piece, we briefly go over how and why attorneys find themselves in hot water when representing a client. It goes without saying: tread carefully or else your career as an attorney could end faster than you thought.

We all know attorneys can't disclose confidential information gained in the course of representation. But what about public, potentially embarrassing information about a client?

Can a lawyer forward an embarrassing blog post about a former client to her colleagues? Can an attorney publicly disapprove of a client's behavior, years after finishing representation? Or would such actions violate a lawyer's duty of confidentiality?

Why You Should Discuss Litigation Financing With Clients

Your clients may not be aware of litigation finance, but you should be. And you should also be aware that handling litigation finance can be like trying to catch a falling knife. And if that's the case, then you're going to need to know how and why you should talk to your clients about possibly getting a third party to pay for their litigation fees and the pitfalls that come with the game.

Like anything else, it's usually better to set out the parameters at the very beginning rather than to wait for awkwardness later on.