Wednesday, October 20, 2004

ETHICS - 101

By Stockton

Yes, we have them, and we keep them in a secret, undisclosed location. Even so, they are sometimes violated.

An attorney's principle duty is to zealously advocate for his paycheck. If the client doesn't pay on time, the lawyer may be forced to fire the office manager, who typically makes sure the attorney is paid on time. It's a viscious cycle.

Secondly, the lawyer should always timely communicate to his client that nothing is going on with the client's case. Never, ever be late in giving a status report to the client. This alone keeps most of them happy. In New York, the number one complaint lodged against attorneys with the Office of Professional Conduct is, "He/She never returns my phone calls." The second most common complaint is that "the Office of Professional Conduct never returns my phone calls."

There are some grey areas in legal ethics. More than lay people may imagine. Case in point:

We grant petitioner's motion to confirm a Referee's report
which found respondent guilty of professional misconduct in
violation of the attorney disciplinary rules (see 22 NYCRR part
1200). During the course of representing his client in custody,
visitation and divorce proceedings in Columbia County Family
Court and then in Supreme Court, respondent left vulgar voice
mail messages on the answering machine of the Law Guardian
representing his client's children (see 22 NYCRR 1200.3 [a] [5],

[7]; 1200.33), communicated with his client's spouse directly by
telephone despite being advised by the spouse's attorney that all
communications should be directed to that attorney (see 22 NYCRR
1200.35 [a]), and entered into a sexual relationship with his
client during the course of his representation of her, failing to
discontinue employment after his professional judgment was
affected by his own personal interest (see 22 NYCRR 1200.20 [a];
1200.29-a [b] [3]).

Although it's a close call, I'd say the attorney in question made some errors. First, the vulgar phone messages; never, ever leave vulgar phone message on a law guardian's answering machine. Always hire someone else to do it. That was his first mistake.

Also, never make direct contact with the opposing party. That is always improper and rarely necessary. There are people in the world, very reputable people, who will provide this service to you. They're good and they get results.

As for sex with a client: such things happen. There are ways to deal with this issue that don't involve license revocation. First, you have a decision to make. You either have to refer the client to another lawyer for representation or refer the client to another lawyer for sex. This is a highly personal decision and will depend upon the client. If you do send the client to another attorney for sex, make sure you explain to the client, in detail, the reason for the referral. Also make sure the explanation is in writing.

If you cannot avoid sex with a client, never, ever bill the client for that time. In real-world legal practice, sex is like drafting a will; it's thrown in for free in order to keep the client happy.

Never mix your money with the client's money. Keep those funds entirely separate. If the thought even crosses your mind, look at the law school diploma on the wall of your office. If you mix money, that diploma will be worthless. Nothing disgusts me more than when I hear about a lawyer abusing the trust of his or her client. There's no place for that in the profession. If that's your style, run for public office.

Law School Ethics

Hopefully, your ethical training started well before law school. If a parent, or both parents, happen to be attorneys, you'll begin with a disadvantage. You can overcome that disadvantage by making friends with students whose parents are truckdrivers and waitresses. Your ethical training must begin no later than mid-way through your second semester. After that, it'll be too late and you'll be well on your way to a succesful career.


Audacity said...

The only thing I remember from Prof. Responsibility is Rule 1.8(j) that states you cannot have sex with a client UNLESS the sexual relationship was established before the attorney-client one.. so just, plan carefully.

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