Legal ethics vary from state to state. Of course, many states model their ethics system on the ABA’s Model Rules. Sometimes, legal ethics aren’t updated as soon as we’d like them to be. This can muddy the waters for lawyers in a quickly-changing environment. Some lawyers are caught by surprise when they receive a letter that tells them they’re being investigated by the bar. Legal ethics governs practically every aspect of law firm life. Failure to follow the rules can result in a suspension, a sanction, or a disbarment. Because the consequences of violating legal ethics are so serious, we’ve put together this list of 5 valuable lessons.
Legal Ethics Vary by Jurisdiction
If you’re admitted in more than one jurisdiction, you should make a point to read the rules everywhere you’re admitted on a regular basis. Refreshing yourself can help you make necessary changes to avoid being accused of a violation. This is important because you must make sure that you’re properly adhering to the rules, especially if you’re actively practicing.
Lack of Communication Is One of the Most Common Ethical Violations
There’s no doubt that lawyers are busy people. It’s not hard for the “little things” to slip your mind. That includes returning phone calls and emails. Did you know that lack of communication is one of the most common ethical violations filed? It’s true. You must make time every day to return phone calls and emails. You must make time every month to provide updates to your clients. This is the best way to protect yourself from this particular legal ethics problem.
Overscheduling Can Create a Serious Problem
All jurisdictions have a rule about diligence. ABA Model Rule 1.3 states “A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.” From our experience, we’ve noticed that many complaints alleging that an attorney violated this rule came about because of the lawyer’s tendency to overschedule things and drop the ball. It is imperative that you have control over your schedule. You must get organized and stay organized. Make use of your support staff if necessary. Bring in help if you don’t have any. Get a consultation from a professional organizer.
Conflicts of Interest Are Dangerous (Even with a Waiver)
Conflict of interest is another common topic of a legal ethics complaint. The best way to protect yourself is to not represent someone who is in an adverse position to any of your clients. Sure, there are waivers. If you choose to use a waiver, you should make sure that you’re using one that is specific to your jurisdiction. Using a waiver that isn’t specific to your jurisdiction can create a dangerous situation for you. Check the rules in your jurisdiction to determine if there is a standard waiver you can use if you choose to represent someone who creates a conflict of interest.
Understand the Rules and Have a Game Plan
The best way to avoid a legal ethics problem is to understand the rules in your jurisdiction and follow them. If you are facing a complaint, you need a game plan. Zavieh Law provides on-call ethics evaluation and monthly consultations as well as full scope and partial scope representation. To learn more, schedule a 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!