Dan Baldwin 2013-01-16 04:08:48
“We are a boutique firm dedicated to our primary practice of helping lawyers in state bar matters and we are the only law partnership in the state with that as a primary practice area,” says Karen Clark, partner in Adams & Clark, PC. Her partner, Ralph Adams, agrees. “It probably sounds trite, but really assisting those people who need help is our focus and it is an incredibly rewarding one. Lawyers are people and when they need help I truly enjoy helping them. People who have been injured in a malpractice suit need help and I enjoy helping them. In my opinion it’s giving these folks who are in their time of need the quality assistance they need for the lowest possible cost to them.” Adams and Clark, located in downtown Phoenix, has nearly 50 years legal experience and more than 30 of those years have been in the area of discipline and ethics. Adams was staff bar counsel for the Utah State Bar and then served as a prosecutor for the State Bar of Arizona for seven years. His last position there was senior bar counsel. Clark worked as a bar prosecutor at the State Bar of Arizona for six years, and then two more years as ethics counsel, giving ethics advice and teaching ethics seminars to attorneys across the state. The firm’s two primary practice areas are state bar discipline defense and plaintiff legal malpractice. The two lawyers met when both were bar counsel at the state bar and developed a working relationship during those five or six years. Adams started representing lawyers on his own in 2001. Clark joined the firm in March, 2009 and they incorporated as Adams and Clark in March of 2009. Adams focuses his attention on advising and representing attorneys in state bar matters including both discipline and reinstatements, and certified legal document preparers with their licensing board. He also represents plaintiffs in legal malpractice actions. Clark’s attention is devoted to advising and representing lawyers in discipline matters, admissions, reinstatements, fee disputes and expert witness issues. “Our practices are so unique that the knowledge our clients need is extremely specialized. That’s what we live for – to help people navigate those issues,” says Clark A Client Base that Spans the Legal Profession The firm represents applicants to the state bar dealing with admission issues such as character and fitness. These are either students, usually from Arizona, or they might be attorneys from other states who are applying to be admitted to the State Bar either as a member of the bar by taking the bar exam or by admission on motion. Clark says, “I find it really very meaningful to help new lawyers striving to enter the practice or practicing attorneys in other states who want to incorporate an Arizona practice. Representing other lawyers is about the most meaningful thing I can think of to do. I absolutely love our clients. Our clients are intelligent, highly educated folks who got into the practice of law generally because they wanted to do good in society and not necessarily to make tons and tons of money. They wanted to help others and that’s why they became lawyers. So, to be lawyers who help lawyers in that setting is about the most honorable thing I can think of to do for a living.” Adams says that their client base runs the gamut of legal practice. “There really isn’t a typical client because of the two unique areas of our practice. Quite frankly, our clients could be anybody. Lawyers are just people, anybody, and they practice in a ‘bazillion’ different areas. So a client could be any attorney from any area of law. Because attorneys represent clients and have the potential of making errors on their behalf, anybody could be our client in an legal malpractice case. There really is no typical client.” Being a Lawyer to Lawyers Adams and Clark represents individuals and firms and individuals within firms in the legal profession, yet they rarely face the challenge of, as Clark says, “clients who want to act as co-counsel in their own case.” She adds, “I know as a lawyer it would be very hard for me to be in the client’s chair because it’s something we’re not naturally accustomed to. However, for the most part when they come to us for help they need the help and they know that they need the help. That’s why they come to us, so generally speaking our clients are very receptive to working with us.” Adams agrees. “Because of the uniqueness of our areas of practice, sometimes lawyers want to ‘lawyer’ a little bit, but because of the uniqueness of the situation they just don’t know how to proceed although they want to. It becomes more of an educational process with us by explaining and describing the peculiarities of our system to them and how it differs from every other area of practice. By rule it is not criminal practice. It is not civil practice. It’s its own unique little world and sometimes lawyers come into it thinking they know how to practice law in this area and quite frankly they don’t have an inkling about it because it’s so unique. It’s really an educational process.” The partners note that when a lawyer is being investigated it’s a fact finding, self-regulation system. It’s not an adversarial system, especially during the investigation stage. Lawyers have a duty to assist the bar in investigating the matter at hand. Adams says, “Lawyers are just people and sometimes they just get too close to a situation and they really need our objectivity. And that’s where we really can help them in remaining objective in facing the issues they need to face and not going off in the wrong direction.” Making a Difference for Other Lawyers Clark joined the legal profession because she wanted to make a difference in society and to help other people. “I absolutely wanted to make a difference and that’s why I find our firm so amazingly rewarding. It’s because we do represent individuals and I find that much more rewarding on a personal level than representing corporations or businesses or government entities. Representing individuals is what I went to law school to do. In the area of ethics, we’re making a difference for our profession. I teach a lot of continuing legal education classes for lawyers in the area of ethics in trying to help lawyers be better lawyers because I can tell you that all our clients want to be better at what they do. That’s what motivates them on a daily basis and being able to help them do that better is what motivates me on a daily basis.” She never experienced an “ah-ha moment” regarding a career in the law. Her interest evolved over time. “My father was a professor at ASU and I wanted to get as much education as possible so it was natural that I would go for a post graduate degree. The law was a natural fit for me because I wanted to make a difference in society. There’s another reason I picked the law. My mom never said so, but I know she had wanted to be a lawyer and I think I inherited that drive from her. I think that without even realizing it, I was fulfilling my mom’s dream.” Adams came to the law by a more direct (and painful) means. He was working in construction when he was involved in an accident in which a number of bones were broken. Unable to work construction any more he sought an avenue that would open as many doors to as many options as possible. “That happened to be a law degree at that time. I think that the universe guides you into the right spot. I had to go back to school and it just so happened that I had a few relatives who were lawyers. I talked to them about it. It seemed to me to be the area of education that would open up many areas of possibilities. And that’s why I chose the law.” The decision has paid off for Adams and Clark and for their expanding client base. “Legal ethics is the most personally rewarding and the most interesting area of the law because on a daily basis you’re looking into the issue of what’s the right thing to do. Did the lawyer do the right thing or the wrong thing? The ethical rules are not a moral code. They’re a regulatory code enforced on lawyers,” Clark says. Adams notes particular satisfaction in fighting, “David vs. Goliath” cases. “The state bar has virtually unlimited resources and when they bring those resources against an individual it gives me great satisfaction to represent lawyers against those odds. It’s the same in a malpractice action in which a particular client has been injured by the act of an attorney who most likely has malpractice insurance backed by a large insurance company. So, it’s again for me the very, very, very best part of the practice is to be able to represent those individuals against those types of resources.” The Train for the New Age of Legal Practice Has Left the Station Clark says that the world of bar discipline defense is increasingly becoming consumer oriented society. There is an increasing demand for consumers to have information when they’re choosing a licensed professional to help them in any area. The way they find that information is online. “We see the State Bar moving toward providing more information about lawyers online. Accessibility of information about lawyer discipline sanctions online is a train that has left the station. Technological advances are going to continue to have dramatic impacts on the way practices are conducted.” Adams sees advantages and serious challenges in those changes. “I see that discipline system becoming geared toward more efficiency of time. The process is going to get quicker and quicker and it’s going to become a more difficult practice area in that there will be time constraints. It seems to me the focus is leaning more to efficiency than due process. It’s going to take some real adjustments. It’s already in that fast lane now.” Both attorneys have donated hundreds of hours to the Arizona Associate of Defense Counsel (AADC), a non-profit organization that was established in 1965. AADC is composed of defense attorneys who practice primarily in the area of civil defense litigation. AADC is dedicated to the education of its members and the judiciary and increasing community awareness of positive aspects of the legal profession. Through AADC, both Adams and Clark provide free initial consultations to help lawyers in drafting their initial response to a bar charge Adams says, “I’ve volunteered hundreds of hours. I’ll tell them when they need a lawyer and when they don’t need a lawyer. When they don’t need a lawyer I say, ‘Go ahead and do it yourself. You’re not going to get a different result just because you’ve hired a lawyer.’ Sometimes they really need a lawyer, and I’ll tell them that, too.” “A win isn’t the same as for other lawyers where you’re talking about money damages. Here it’s something very different. It’s playing a critical role in the self-regulation that the law gives us the great opportunity to do. It’s the only profession where self-regulation rules the day and to be a part of that on both ends is very meaningful,” Clark says.
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