Representing clients who have recently immigrated to the US can pose special challenges. Read my latest post on IranianLawyers.com for my tactics for managing your client relationship to make sure you don’t end up with an ethics complaint.
Check out my latest article at The Lawyerist.com on how to handle billing to minimize your risk of ethics complaints.
Joseph Corsmeier of the Lawyer Ethics Alert Blogs recently brought to my attention through his blog post a Wisconsin discipline case which really got under my skin. In his post, Joseph discusses the case of Richard J. Podell, a Wisconsin lawyer who has been in practice since 1969 with no history of discipline, who has served on various ABA committees and had a distinguished career. Apparently Mr. Podell accidentally submitted duplicate reimbursement requests to the ABA for expenses incurred on ABA business; the errors were discovered and he quickly made good with the ABA. The grand total of the overpayment was about $1100 for a period covering several years. Mr. Podell and the ABA were happy with their resolution, and that should have been the end of it.
However, as detailed in the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision, another lawyer and former ABA officer T. Maxfield Bahner decided to take the matter to the Wisconsin disciplinary authority and pressed hard for ethics sanctions against Mr. Podell. The Office of Lawyer Regulation filed charges that Mr. Podell engaged in “professional misconduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.” Thankfully the Wisconsin Supreme Court declined to impose discipline.
I am happy to see that Mr. Podell was not sanctioned, but what bothers me so much about this is that it appears that common sense has left the building at the Wisconsin Office of Lawyer Regulation, and I suspect it has at many ethics regulators around the country. Could no one in that office see that this case did not warrant prosecution? Could no one stand up and say that Mr. Podell should not be dragged through a disciplinary proceeding over a small and now rectified error?
Besides it being obvious to anyone reading about this case that Mr. Podell should not be prosecuted, I also have an issue with an ethics prosecutor pursuing a case where a lawyer rectifies an error in a private matter and all involved parties are satisfied. The notion that people not involved in a dispute, such as Mr. Bahner, can urge a prosecution on a private matter is a perversion of the disciplinary system. I understand having some provision in the ethics rules for a non-party complainant to alert to the authorities to misconduct; however, when the alleged misconduct is a private matter resolved between the attorney and the other party, the prosecutor should leave well enough alone.
Too many of our discipline cases stem from an underlying belief that attorneys are to be held to such a high standard of conduct that we may not make mistakes without facing disciplinary proceedings. In California attorneys must self-report certain criminal convictions, but not simple misdemeanor traffic violations, yet the State Bar can take information from a private party about an attorney’s traffic violation and open a disciplinary proceeding. We may have a high moral and ethical obligation, but we are still human and entitled to make mistakes without facing a fight for our licenses to practice law at every turn. If we inject a little common sense into the discipline system, these fights that should not be would be avoided. It sounds like Mr. Podell had simply made an enemy of Mr. Bahner in some unrelated way, and he decided to make Mr. Podell’s life hellish in return. The prosecutors should be protecting the profession from unnecessary nastiness rather than feeding into it and prosecuting attorneys for conduct clearly not warranting discipline.
I notice that the Wisconsin Supreme Court did not award any costs (thank goodness), but someone really should make Mr. Podell whole for having to defend against such a nonsensical prosecution.
TheLawyerist.com recently published an article I wrote on how to minimize your risk of an ethics complaint. To find out about systems you can put in place now to guard against complaints in the future, check out TheLawyerist for the full article.
Recently TheLawyerist.com published my post on how to respond to an ethics complaint. Highlights include what NOT to do when that dreaded complaint comes your way, and how best to craft an effective response.
Happy 2013 to all the lawyers out there! I am brimming with excitement over the great things happening in the coming year, and I look forward to helping as many of you as need me.
As you plan your practice for the next year, what tools are you implementing to make sure this is a drama-free time for your business? Have you begun putting systems into place to make sure your phone calls are returned, your clients are tended to, your trust account funds are properly handled, and that you leave no windows open for a Bar complaint?
If you have ideas you are implementing to safeguard your practice from ethics violations, I would love to hear about them. If you need some help putting systems into action, I am here to help.
Best wishes for a prosperous and complaint-free 2013.
Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog to advise everyone of the apparent expiration on December 31, 2012 of the Dodd-Frank Deposit FDIC Insurance provision which provided for the unlimited deposit insurance coverage for Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTAs) which are called IOTA trust accounts in Florida.
The federal insurance will now only cover up to $250,000.00 per client ledger within the lawyer's trust account.