Professional Responsibility for Small Law Firms - Strategist
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The Internet is bloated with over-opinionated jerks. Everyone knows this; but it's never anything to lose sleep over until someone comes after you personally. If your reputation is attacked by an anonymous online user on Yelp or some other public site, what should you do?

First, take a deep breath. Before you do anything, think about how your reactions will make you appear. Possibly the worst thing you can do is freak out and threaten to sue.

Many clients seek a lawyer's help at the darkest times of their life. They may be dealing with chronic illness, going through a contentious custody battle, fighting foreclosure, or facing prosecution and potential imprisonment. It's unsurprising then that some of these clients would struggle with feelings of depression or suicide.

How should an attorney react to a suicidal client? What can an attorney ethically reveal and what liability might attach to an attorney's acts or omissions?

We're in the middle of a crowdfunding golden age. Individuals have raised thousands of dollars to make potato salad ($55,000), create inflatable Lionel Richie sculptures ($12,500), and conduct a squirrel census ($9,000). When it comes to fundraising, it seems like people are just giving money away.

Should lawyers and litigants looking to finance a suit hop on the crowdfunding train? What about working with litigation investment companies? The answer, of course, is maybe. While crowdfunding has been used successfully, litigation investment poses significant ethical risks for lawyers.

We've all wished that there were more hours in a day. Some lawyers, however, have gone ahead and added their own -- at least in their bills. It's not unheard of for lawyers to pad their hours so extensively that they are charging 26 hours of work -- in a single day.

But while bill padding might bring in an extra dollar or two in the short term, it's generally a bad idea to fleece your clients. Here's why lawyers shouldn't pad their hours:

U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf is giving up on blogging -- again. Judge Kopf's "Hercules and the Umpire" blog had gained notoriety over the years for what some see as a breach of judicial decorum -- telling Congress to go to hell, for example, or commenting on female lawyers' bodies. Many, however, became fans of Judge Kopf, praising his candor and accessible writing style.

This is at least the second time Judge Kopf has "hung up his keyboard" and it might not be the last. What can lawyers learn from this federal judge's love/hate relationship with the blogosphere?

There's zealous advocacy on behalf of a client and then there's harnessing the power of the Internet to influence a legal proceeding. The first? Fine. The second -- well, it could get you in trouble, as the case of Joyce McCool makes clear. McCool, a Louisiana lawyer, has been disbarred after using social media in an attempt to influence a case. Not fined or suspended -- disbarred.

McCool lost her license to practice after she took to Twitter and a Change.org petition in order to influence the outcome of a friend's custody battle. The lawyer's Internet activism was a bit too much for the Louisiana Supreme Court, who chose disbarment over the disciplinary board's recommended year suspension.

Clients often want to be heard: by their lawyers, by the courts, by the public. Some take to the media to get their side of a story aired. Letting clients speak directly with the media, however, can have severe risks, especially when a client is unpredictable, unprepared, or unsympathetic.

Perhaps you've heard the story about the recent shooting death of Kate Steinle. Ms. Steinle was allegedly shot at random by Francisco Sanchez, though that "allegedly" is getting much weaker after Sanchez gave a jailhouse interview confessing to the crime and asking to be put to death. Those statements aren't going to make his lawyer's job any easier, highlighting the risks involved with client-media contact.

Nearly one in five American adults suffer from a mental illness at some point, with almost ten million adults experiencing serious mental illnesses that interfere with daily life. This means that, sooner or later, most lawyers will encounter a client with some sort of mental illness or impairment.

Working with a client with mental illness can raise serious ethical questions about your representation, your client's competency, and the form of your relationship. Here are some issues to consider in the event that you find yourself representing a client with a mental illness.

When advising a corporate client, lawyers may be tempted to limit their inquiry into the legality of a particular business practice or matter. Instead, they should also consider the ethical implications of their advice.

There are codified ethics guidelines, laws and regulations, all of which attempt to establish minimal levels of good behavior. But there are also individual ethics, a personal commitment to what is right, not just what is legally required.

Personal ethics may foreclose classic "gray area" arguments and may require a lawyer to counsel clients against suspect behavior. When it comes to advising business clients, legality is an attorney's main concern. But it should not be the only one.

What to Do When Opposing Counsel Won't Play Nice

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?