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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Legal Ethics--It's complicated

Many lawyers believe that they can conduct a law practice ethically following their sense of what is morally "the right thing to do."  Relying on what their mother taught them and the "smell test" they think that ethical matters can be handled intuitively.  Of course, lying, cheating and stealing are obvious ethical breaches, but legal ethics has evolved into a body of law as complex as civil procedure and other courses law students take.  Some of the rules are counter-intuitive.  Not long ago I attended a marketing seminar for lawyers where the speaker, a lawyer, proudly spoke of her practice of sending small gifts as "tokens of appreciation" to persons that brought clients to her firm.  The Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit this and I had the CLE sponsor sent a message out to the attendees bringing this to their attention.  See Va. Rule 7.3(d).

Recently I took a call from a lawyer that wanted to move to disqualfy a law firm that was adverse to the caller's client and had recently hired an associate from a very large firm.  The associate's former law firm had represented the caller's client in a related matter while the associate worked there.  The associate was not even aware that the caller's client had been a client of his former law firm, had no knowledge of the matter handled by his former law firm nor any personal involvement.  I informed the caller that there was no conflict of interest and no basis to file a motion to disqualfiy the firm.  He responded, "Really?  That can't be right."  I explained that conflicts are imputed under Rule 1.10 to other lawyers associated in a law firm, but the rules are different when lawyer move between firms.

More examples can be cited but the bottom line is that lawyers have to read, understand and know the rules and they cannot "go with their gut."

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Lawyers Need to be Aware of Fake Reviews

I did an interview for the ABA Journal that was published in August 2012.  See ABA Journal, August 2012 at pp. 24-25.  The topic of interest was the discovery of several incidents of online reviews of lawyers and law firms purporting to have been written by clients.  Random Google searches of firms revealed "five star" reviews of various law firms created by persons who claimed to be clients of the law firm.  Contacting the reviewers for verification is not possible.  Google has acknowledged that bogus reviews are a problem but Google does not create reviews.  Lawyers who hire marketing firms to boost their image and ratings online must ensure that the consultant is not using improper or deceptive practices, including manufacturing fake reviews about the quality of the lawyer's services.  In the interview, I advise that lawyers who advertise and use the Internet to marker their services have an ethical duty to periodically Google their name and see what's out there.  Lawyers should be monitoring and policing what others say about them.