Over the past few months, a number of state Supreme Court decisions reprimanding, suspending, and disbarring attorneys serve as valuable reminders to young attorneys about what it means to be a professional and engage in the practice of law in the right way. Not to over simplify something that seemingly has eluded many (former) attorneys, but it really comes down to something that everyone heard over and over while growing up: treat others as you would want to be treated. What does this mean for young attorneys?
Don’t Take on More Than You Can Chew
The most typical claims brought against attorneys in disciplinary proceedings are that they have failed to properly handle a case, follow through on client needs, or communicate with clients. See, e.g., In re Gregory Andrew Broiles, S245634 (Cal. Feb. 5, 2018) (suspended); Matter of Shahab, 2018 WL 575975 (Ga. Jan. 29, 2018) (disbarred); The Fla. Bar v. Sessions, 2017 WL 6519947 (Fla. Jan. 9, 2018) (suspended); The Fla. Bar v. Tourtelot, 2017 WL 6523448 (Fla. Dec. 21, 2017) (disbarred). Every attorney has her capacity. It would behoove you to know yours. While it’s tempting to take on more clients—because this “more” usually follows with more money—make sure you have the time, energy, resources, and know how to diligently and effectively represent the interests of any prospective client. Part and parcel of this includes making it a point to calendar—and stay ahead of—important deadlines; establishing good communication habits, as well as baseline communication-related expectations; and taking the time to master the facts and law related to your client’s case. Think about it this way: If you were the client, how would you want your attorney to engage with you and your case?
Know the Rules
This doesn’t mean you have to commit every rule, guideline, and standard learned when preparing for the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination to memory. That said, some of the responsibilities aren’t intuitive, so it’s a good idea to keep the general topic areas in mind and have something you can easily reference from time-to-time. Areas that recently have gotten attorneys in trouble involve improperly reaching out to and approaching prospective clients, see, e.g., Matter of Morris, 2018 WL 575980, at *1 (Ga. Jan. 29, 2018) (disbarred), improper business relationships with clients, see, e.g., In re Person, 2018 WL 1151266 (La. March 2, 2018) (suspended), and improperly maintaining client trust accounts, see, e.g., Matter of Yacobi, 2018 WL 1310912 (S.C. Mar. 14, 2018) (reprimand).
Practice with Integrity
While there are many ways by which you can tarnish your reputation (not to mention face disciplinary action)—including misrepresenting the law or facts in a particular case or talking down to opposing counsel or a judge—the inappropriate practice that recently has gotten the most attorneys in trouble is retaining unearned fees. See, e.g., The Fla. Bar v. Odusanya, 2017 WL 6375624 (Fla. Dec. 14, 2017) (suspended). Remember, it takes years to build a good reputation but only one bad decision to ruin it. And once it’s ruined, it’s a Himalayan climb back. Work hard, and work with integrity. The rest will fall into place.