|Ethical Things That Lawyers Can and Can't Do|
There are some new cases from the Ohio Supreme Court that came out today, dealing with failures to comply with ethical obligations by Ohio attorneys and they serve as a reminder to all attorneys, in and outside of Ohio. Since the same old things happen, it might be good to take a few hints from these recent suspensions.
Attorney Fee Agreements. While most states still do not require a written fee agreement in an hourly rate case, that isn't the case with a contingency fee case. Regardless of that, though, why take a chance on a misunderstanding? Last time we heard, most grievances occur for two reasons - lack of regular client communications and fee disputes. Put it in writing may not be the rule but it is the smart thing to do. 2012-Ohio-5012 (failing to use a written contingency fee agreement; failing to register for electronic filing with Court where case is pending).
Continuing Legal Education. This is a no-brainer - and you would think that it takes brains to get through law school and pass the bar exam, so this should never be a problem. But it continues to result in hundreds of suspensions every year across the country. You have to comply with your state's continuing legal education requirements. No if's. No but's. No way around it. 2012-Ohio-5004 (failing to maintain continuing legal education requirements).
Giving Legal Advice While Suspended. Another no-brainer. It is hard to understand how this one can happen by any intelligent person, let alone a lawyer, but apparently it can. 2012-Ohio-5004 (giving legal advice while suspended).
Failure to Cooperate. If you get a letter from the Bar Grievance Committee, ignore it at your own peril. Merely failing to cooperate with an investigation is, all by itself, grounds for disbarment or suspension. 2012-Ohio-5004 (failing to cooperate with investigation).
Trust Account Screw-ups. Okay, so you have a Trust Account. Now use it. And use it right. Don't just throw all the cost deposits and settlement money in and figure it out later. And messing with it? You think the bank doesn't have records? If the Bar investigator doesn't get a straight answer from you, it doesn't take much to get the bank records and figure it all out - without much any help from you at all. Keep precise and accurate Trust Account books. Balance them regularly. Know how much each client has in the Trust Account. Oh, and keep your own money out of it. 2012-Ohio-5014 (failing to reconcile Trust Account monthly; failing to maintain individual client records of Trust Account funds).
Practicing law can be fun (and profitable too), but not if you spend your time dealing with ethics complaints too.
Ronald L Burdge
Helping Lawyers do Their Best, for Over 30 Years