Professional Responsibility for Small Law Firms - Strategist
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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.

Amal Alamuddin. Amal Clooney. Amal Alamuddin Clooney. This whole marriage thing can get a bit confusing, right?

It's even more confusing for clients and the court, which is why the decision about whether to practice law under your maiden or married name is pretty darn important. There's the marketing and name recognition aspect. There are ethics considerations too. And, of course, the convenience factor: changing firm names, business cards, websites, and letting clients and the court know.

Maybe hyphenation is in order?

One of the more ridiculous inventions in the law has to be the waiver of the right to appeal, especially the right to bring claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Imagine if we could all make our missteps and mistakes go away by having clients sign waivers -- there would be no malpractice suits, no insurance requirements, and maybe even no disciplinary proceedings.

There would also be a whole heck of a lot more misconduct and far less faith in the justice system. That's why it's heartening to see that the Department of Justice is finally ending its practice (albeit a somewhat sporadic practice) of requiring defendants to waive ineffective assistance claims as part of a plea bargain.

Even if, as the policy change memorandum notes, "federal courts have uniformly held a defendant may generally waive ineffective assistance claims pertaining to matters other than the entry of the plea itself," the goal should be fairness and adequate representation, even at the cost of a few additional appeals.

Part of the reason you're doing all the networking we keep harping about is so that you can get referrals from other lawyers. Like your friend the tax attorney who knows a guy who knows a guy who needs a personal injury attorney -- like you.

New lawyers especially might not know how to navigate referrals, so we've provided this handy guide so that you know how to take advantage of referrals -- and do it without violating any laws.

You'll recall that in July, Eric Garner, a man from Staten Island, was placed in a lethal chokehold by NYPD officers after he was arrested for the inherently dangerous felony of selling untaxed cigarettes. (That was sarcasm, by the way.) Garner's family filed a civil suit against the NYPD.

Well, things just took a turn. In another case of lawyers (allegedly) behaving badly, Sanford Rubenstein, the attorney representing Garner's family, was accused of rape earlier this week and has now said he will drop out of the case.

You've finally got clients coming in the door! Clients are coming! After hanging your shingle, advertising, handling your aunt's cat's estate plan and living will, and redesigning your firm stationary for the 65th time, you finally have a few client intakes lined up.

What steps should you take to protect the client's interests, as well as your own? Here are five things you should be doing to ensure that you end up with conflict-free, sane, paying clients: