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

Recently in Professional Responsibility Category

We've written before about how lawyers do (or at least, should) extend each other professional courtesies. These small actions, like not objecting to reasonable discovery requests or scheduling depositions at convenient times and places, amount to treating opposing counsel with respect.

Some lawyers, though, think that any amount of cordiality amounts to surrender. They've got to the establish themselves as the Alpha Dog, or whatever metaphor their self-help books use. How do you deal with these crazy people?

Keeping abreast of legal developments, picking up some management skills, learning about new legal tech or marketing strategies -- these are just some of the benefits of making sure you have continuous professional development. After all, in an industry that evolves every time a new case is decided, lawyers can't stay idle. Attorneys have an obligation to keep up their professional development.

But what are you to do if you're a solo practitioner or your firm doesn't offer a formal (or just good) professional development program? Fret not. There's plenty of P.D. opportunities out there for you. Here's five places to find them:

If you're an expert in your field, or if you're representing a noteworthy client, you should expect to get contacted by the press at some point. A reporter may want background information on tenant's rights or healthcare law, or ask for your comments on an important ruling.

Great! Getting your name out in the media as a legal expert is exactly the kind of publicity lawyers should court. If your clients are involved in high-profile litigation, speaking to the press can help you get their side of the story across.

Make sure, though, that when you speak to the press, you do it right, focusing on getting your points across clearly and avoiding any ethical entanglements. Here's some tips:

The Supreme Court's decision in Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar upheld restrictions on judicial campaigns, and while it didn't address the propriety of electing judges, Chief Justice Roberts did acknowledge that the practice of judges asking lawyers around town for donations can make things pretty awkward.

Judicial elections have long represented a gray zone for ethics; normally, lawyers aren't allowed to give judges anything of value, but during election season, everything is A-OK. But is there a line that you shouldn't cross? How much is too much when it comes to donating to a judge's election campaign?

When does a tweet of 140 characters or less require a disclaimer? More often than you might think. While a solid social media policy is a good way to avoid online complications and potential ethics breaches, if you're a lawyer who tweets, a cautious disclaimer every now and then can save you headaches later.

Whether it's notifying your readers that they're not getting legal advice, distancing your views from that of your firm, or ending each tweet with #imnotyourlawyer, Twitter disclaimers can give you an added layer of protection.

There aren't many lawyers who went into law because a career in theoretical mathematics would have been just too easy. In fact, many of us can probably get away with counting on our fingers much of the time -- except when it comes complex patent litigation. Or to client funds. Lawyers' ethical responsibility to maintain a client's funds in trust is one of the most common reasons lawyers face disciplinary action.

As a rule of thumb, you should strive to manage your client funds so that, should you die tonight, everything would remain in order. Of course, we don't always live up to that ideal. So, if you find an accounting mistake in an trust account, what sort of ethical issues might arise and what must you do about it?

For Star Wars Day (May the Fourth -- get it?), we're focusing on The Dark Side of the Force and how lawyers shouldn't be tempted by it. Sure, it comes with cooler costumes and Force Lightning, but at the end of the day, it's the good side that always wins. Or it should, anyway.

You might not think that in the moment, though. A young Anakin Skywalker thought that the Dark Side was a super-good deal, and look where it led him? Here are some Tales from the Dark Side (of the Force), just for lawyers.

On a recent episode of "How to Get Away with Murder," Professor Keating posits a question to her murder class: Should you ask the client if he committed the crime? Keating suggests that a defense attorney has to "lie" to the jury about a client's innocence, but that's not really the case.

The lawyer shouldn't be making a moral judgment; after all, some proportion of clients are bound to have actually done the thing they're accused of, so that goes with the territory. (You didn't think you'd be representing only innocent people, did you?)

But is there any utility to asking if your client "did it"?

Litigation can make us mad, it's true. But the key is not to let your anger take over. That, as Yoda knows all too well, leads to the Dark Side.

David Novoselsky, a lawyer from Illinois, apparently didn't watch any of the "Star Wars" films, because he issued a litany of offensive comments -- in court -- aimed at opposing counsel and the opposing party. That earned him a proposed six-month suspension from the Review Board of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

It's Friday! You've worked all day and most of the nights for the past few weeks. You've come into the office on Saturday and worked through to Sunday morning. It's time for a break. Your sanity, or your marriage, may depend on it.

So what do you do when your much needed respite is interrupted by clients? Model Professional Conduct Rule 1.4 requires that attorneys provide prompt and reasonable communication with clients, but there's plenty of room for interpretation what constitutes a prompt or reasonable response. How can you get around responding to a client for the weekend?