Professional Responsibility for Small Law Firms - Strategist
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Last week, the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission suspended two lawyers for two years for a variety of issues in their dealings with low-income clients who were settling debts. They're all somewhat run-of-the-mill violations, except committed on a much larger scale.

What could attorneys Thomas Macey and Jeffrey Aleman have possibly done to get suspended for two years? Read on, and maybe you can learn what not to do with your new debt settlement firm.

Eric Michael Gamble, a lawyer in Kansas City, Kansas, made one big mistake. While representing a biological father who wished to contest the adoption of his daughter, he sent a Facebook message to the unrepresented 18-year-old biological mother urging her to reconsider. He also attached a form that he'd prepared to revoke her consent to the adoption, the Legal Profession Blog reports.

The message, which the Kansas Supreme Court called "emotional blackmail," also contained inaccurate legal advice and inaccurate factual assertions. However, Gamble self-reported his misconduct, carefully outlining all of the rules that he thought that he may have violated and expressed remorse for his conduct.

The adoption went though as planned. Gamble not only lost the case, but the court ran wild with his self-reported misconduct and imposed a six-month suspension, far more than a hearing panel's 60-day recommendation. Did he deserve that harsh of a sanction?

Earlier this fall, we brought you the tale of a lawyer filing a copyright lawsuit to prevent a disciplinary board from including text from her blog in a disciplinary complaint. Needless to say, the lawsuit failed.

Joanne Denison is back, and this time, the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (IARDC) is recommending a three-year suspension ("and until further order of the court") because of the allegedly false statements she published on her blog about the Probate Court of Cook County, as well as local judges and lawyers.

Did her copyright lawsuit play any part in the lengthy sentence?

Even amid reports that it's the season of trampling people to get a cheap TV, it's still the season of giving. Sometimes, this involves giving from a client to a vendor, or, in your case, from a client to you.

Hold up there, buddy! Can you accept that gift from a client? What are the ethical rules surrounding accepting gifts from clients? And even if it's ethical, is it a good idea?

The appeal of a non-compete agreement to a small firm is obvious: you're going to spend a whole lot of time training some new attorney on the tricks and tools of the trade and you really don't want them walking out six months later with a third of your clients, then sharking off more of your future business.

Appealing, no doubt. But apparently, at least under Indiana's rules of professional conduct, non-competes are unethical. J. Frank Hanley II, a Social Security Disability attorney in Indianapolis, just learned that the hard way, after he was publicly reprimanded by the Indiana Supreme Court for including such a provision in an employment agreement with an associate. (H/T to the Legal Profession Blog).

Social media is a mixed blessing. Sure, it allows instantaneous communications with friends and family (especially over cat photos), but it also allows clients to make terrible decisions at the push of a button. Part of your initial meeting with a client should be a brief overview of why the client should stay away from Facebook and Twitter (and others).

Clients are big boys and girls; so why should you take on the Herculean task of telling them not to respond to that itch to comment?

Is electing judges a good idea? Our gut reaction is "no," but for the sake of argument, let's take a look at the current state of the courts to see just what's happening with elected versus appointed judges.

In Pennsylvania, a former Supreme Court judge just dropped her appeal of her sentence for campaign-related crimes. In Illinois, a record-breaking 2004 campaign, for which $9.3 million was spent by or on behalf of the candidates, has been followed up with a 10-years-in-the-making retention election sequel, raising questions of why lawyers and businesses are dumping millions into that election -- to "buy" an outcome for their upcoming Illinois Supreme Court case perhaps? There's even money being dumped into a district court race in Missouri.

And then there's the hypocritical rules on raising funds -- in many states, judges mustn't solicit donations but do need to fund their campaign -- that led to a Supreme Court cert. grant earlier this year.

It's a mess, one that could be solved easily with one small change: Ending the popular election of judges.

It's one thing to represent someone who has a questionable case. It's quite another to continue to press forward with a lawsuit when you have evidence that the case is not only questionable, but fraudulent.

If Facebook is to be believed, that's exactly what the multi-firm team that represented Paul Ceglia did. Ceglia claimed that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg sold him an ownership stake (now worth billions) in his startup social network. Ceglia's lawsuit was dismissed after evidence emerged that the contract he presented as proof of a deal was a forgery.

Fresh off that victory, Facebook isn't pursuing Ceglia for the false claims; the company is suing his lawyers.

This is one of the more absurd copyright claims, and absurd responses to a disciplinary proceeding, that you'll ever see.

Joanne Denison, an attorney, has a blog about the trials and tribulations of Mary Sykes, a 90-year-old "probate victim." The blog contains a number of allegations of corruption in the Probate Court of Cook County, Illinois, along with accusations of elder abuse and physical and mental harm inflicted upon Sykes.

The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (IARDC) filed a complaint against Denison listing a handful of alleged ethics violations, most of which regarded her statements on her blog. In the complaint, which was published on the IARDC's website, 15 paragraphs from her blog were quoted. Denison's response? To sue, alleging a copyright violation.

Stacy Ehrisman-Mickle took on a pair of brothers as clients in early September. Knowing that she had a six-week maternity leave coming up, she immediately filed a request to postpone the hearing. After a month, and with only a week until the hearing, Judge J. Dan Pelletier Sr. denied her request, stating: "No good cause. Hearing date set prior to counsel accepting representation," reports The Associated Press.

On October 7, 2014, with her husband out of town on work, no friends or family in the area, and no daycare willing to take a 4-week-old baby, Ehrisman-Mickle showed up to court with her baby strapped to her chest -- after clearing it with her pediatrician. When her child began to cry, Judge Pelletier publicly scolded her for her behavior and questioned her parenting, commenting that she was exposing her child to many germs in court.

Judge Pelletier eventually delayed the hearing, while Ehrisman-Mickle filed a formal complaint the same day.