Professional Responsibility for Small Law Firms - Strategist
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Can attorneys advise their clients to remove, before litigation commences, social media pages and accounts which may contain potential evidence in a dispute? The Florida Bar's Ethics Committee took up this and similar questions in a recent proposed advisory opinion.

The state bar, like others, advises that lawyers must not advise clients to obstruct access to evidence the lawyer reasonably should know is relevant to pending or foreseeable proceedings.

Of course, like many ethical questions, there's a fair amount of wiggle room in the answer.

Clients who don't get everything they wanted. Clients who think they shouldn't have to pay everything you asked them to. Clients whose friends -- armchair lawyers, all -- tell them to.

What do all of those people have in common? They're in the class of "people who are most likely to file a bar complaint against you." The bar complaint is a Sword of Damocles that clients think they can hang above attorneys to get what they want, including out of a fee agreement.

So what should you do if you're on the receiving end of such a complaint?

Sometimes, lawyers take arguments from other lawyers personally. Reading a sentence that starts with, "Defendant is mistaken" can be a hit to your ego and make you a little upset. Remember, though, we're professionals and this sort of thing shouldn't be taken personally. It's just a job.

Even so, the news is filled with stories of lawyers who fired off really nasty letters, or frivolously accused opposing counsel of being unethical. This kind of stuff barely wins the instant battle (if at all) and, in the long run, makes you the kind of lawyer nobody wants to deal with.

Here are five reasons why civility with opposing counsel is one of your most important assets:

As if Hillary Clinton needed more trouble stemming from her time as secretary of state, The New York Times reports that she used a personal email account "exclusively" to conduct official State Department business. That's potentially problematic, thanks to federal laws requiring retention of agency emails as official records.

This raises the question: When do you use work email and when do you use personal email? And can it get you into any ethical hot water?

Stay current on your child support obligations, or you might lose your law license. As the ABA Journal reported yesterday, the Supreme Court of Kentucky disbarred Daniel Warren James for failing to pay over $200,000 in child support obligations over 13 years.

That's not just a failure to pay a little child support; it's a failure to pay a lot of child support. That, coupled with a history of attorney discipline, led the Supreme Court to conclude permanent disbarment was an appropriate sanction.

If your law firm's clients speak Spanish (or deal with Spanish speakers in their course of business), how can you make sure you're speaking to their legal needs?

According to the Pew Research Center, Spanish is far and away the most-spoken non-English language in the United States. It's spoken by 37.6 million people, followed by Chinese (a distant second, with 2.8 million speakers).

Spanish-speakers need legal services too, and often they may not be able to find them. While you may have a few template legal forms available for simple things like leases and powers of attorney, having them in Spanish, as well as English, is a pretty good idea.

"Law & Order" is chock full of situations where a lawyer elicits some damning testimony from a witness, the other side objects, and Sam Waterston cheerfully says, "Withdrawn." And what's been heard, while "disregarded," can't really be unheard.

That's TV. In the real world, of course, there's no cheeky "withdrawn." A Philadelphia lawyer learned that the hard way, when she got hit with nearly $1 million in sanctions last fall. (Read that in your best Dr. Evil voice.)

As defense attorney Nancy Raynor pursues an appeal, here's what led up to the sanctions -- along with a potential lesson about malpractice insurance:

What should your law firm's website disclaimer say?

As we've pointed out recently, your website is most likely an attorney communication (unless, of course, it's your personal blog about your favorite jazz musicians). Consequently, it's governed by all the same rules that regulate attorney advertising and communications.

That means disclaimers letting people know that it's attorney advertising. But are there any mandatory magic words you have to use? Sometimes; it depends on your state, of course.

The perils of co-representation! Representing two parties at the same time usually comes up in the divorce context, where the parties are (more or less) agreeable and really just want to save money by using just one lawyer.

That sounds great and all -- except when things go south, or when your state's professional rules strictly forbid it. The Legal Profession Blog shares this tale of a Maryland lawyer suspended indefinitely for representing a married couple in a personal injury suit.

It's happened to you before: You get an unsolicited email from someone you don't know, claiming that someone else did something to him and now he wants to sue. You're pretty sure this person got your email address from the state bar website, because you've never heard of this person before.

Opening up the email, and the inevitable attachments, you find a litany of charges and poorly constructed pleadings. What should you do now?