Ethical complaints against lawyers are extremely serious matters. Could something as small and easy as creating and sending an engagement letter protect a lawyer from an ethical complaint? In some instances, yes. While there is no one tool or strategy that can protect an attorney from a potential ethical complaint, protection is often found in the administrative side of a law practice.
The Importance of Using an Engagement Letter in Any Matter
There are times when lawyers who are working on a very small matter forgo using an engagement matter. The thought is that since the matter is minor and won’t take much time, the lawyer and the client are obviously on the same page. However, that’s rarely the case. Yes, in many small matters clients may know what to expect. Sometimes, even if clients aren’t happy, they may not file a bar complaint. Because there is a likelihood of an ethical complaint being filed against an attorney even in a small matter, an engagement letter is important. It outlines what the lawyer will do on behalf of the client.
Are Engagement Letters a Necessity?
In California, an engagement letter is only a necessity if the generated fees will exceed $1,000. Regardless of the type of law or the structure of their law office, every attorney should know, understand, and follow the guidelines in their jurisdiction.
However, not every jurisdiction has a specific ethical rule in place related to the use of engagement letters. That does not mean that attorneys can skip them. They have the potential to protect an attorney. Consider the following:
You’re a lawyer who agreed to complete a small project for a client that would only take you two hours. You turn over the finished project to your client and you close the matter. The client is unhappy because they believed that they would receive something more than what you gave them. There was no engagement letter that clearly explained the scope of the project. The client files an ethical complaint against you. How much time and money would you need to invest into your defense of the alleged violation when compared to what the client paid for two hours of your time?
Opt to Use an Engagement Letter for Every Matter
As an attorney, you have the ability to protect yourself from certain types of ethical complaints. Opt to use an engagement letter for every matter you take on. It’s a simple and fast way that you can protect yourself and your livelihood!
Are You Facing an Ethical Complaint?
If you’re a lawyer facing an ethical complaint, one of the best things you can do is get a lawyer. It’s hard to be objective when you’re facing this sort of violation. Contact Zavieh Law to schedule your private phone consultation.
If you receive an ethics complaint from the California Bar and you’re not sure where you should start, check out The State Bar Playbook. This is Megan’s interactive and easy to use guide (and community!) that will help guide you through the process from receipt of the complaint all the way through the appeals process!