Developing good practices early in one's career is necessary to avoid malpractice. If you require information regarding an ethical question or are concerned about the conduct of a colleague, contact your state's licensing entity and consult your state's rules of professional conduct. By following your state's rules you will avoid disciplinary action and contribute to the independence of the profession and the public's trust in it. Remember, if your gut tells you the conduct is wrong, follow your instincts.
The following guidelines for conduct are essential to every lawyer's practice:
- Screen clients thoroughly to determine if you have the expertise, time, and resources to represent the client. Don't represent clients with unrealistic expectations, frivolous claims, or illegal motives.
- Provide clients with written fee agreements and engagement letters; and provide those not represented with a non-engagement letter.
- Set up a computer database system for conflict of interest checks and circulate relevant potential client names among all attorneys and staff.
- Set up separate client trust fund accounts.
- Keep accounting records and store records per state rules.
- Use a calendaring system to keep track of appointments, deadlines, and court dates.
- Create a reliable filing system for client documents.
- Maintain adequate records for a case by writing notes in clients' files regarding conversations, case communication, and completed tasks.
- Maintain client confidentiality.
- Provide clients with detailed monthly billing statements.
- Return client telephone calls the same day.
- Copy clients on all work product and keep clients apprised of their cases.
- Abide by clients' decisions affecting their substantial legal rights.
- Understand the rules governing referrals, referral fees, and fee sharing.
- Engage in truthful, non-deceptive advertising and abide by state rules governing client solicitation.
- Ask for help when necessary.
- Report the misconduct of another attorney, even one of your colleagues.
- Finally, always be prepared, thorough, and diligent!
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About the Author
Ms. Baluk is a young lawyer licensed in Illinois.
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