Frank Mascagni 2013-11-14 11:01:12
Take Care of Your Reputation: It’s Your Most Valuable Asset As lawyers, whether you practice civil or criminal law, it is imperative we understand our roles as litigators, which is sometimes misunderstood – even by counsel. As practitioners of law, whether civil or criminal, we both play an important part in making certain that the guarantees of our State and Federal Constitution and its Bill of Rights protect everyone. Whether you negotiate or litigate, your role is essential to assuring a positive outcome for your client. We enjoy greater freedom in the United States than in any other society in the world. Therefore, vigorous and fair treatment to those involved in legal proceeding is essential to an ordered society. In discussing general considerations for practitioners of law, we must first understand the system and our roles. Equally important to the understanding of our roles is the understanding of the limitations of your role. Traditionally, attorneys have been stereotyped as creatures whose job is to get his or her client off or secure a judgment at all costs. Equally as untrue is the stereotype of the prosecutor or the plaintiff ’s lawyer whose job it is to get a conviction or judgment at all costs. Both of these stereotypes are false and if you practice law this way, you will certainly shorten your personal and professional life. Whether you practice civil or criminal law, you don’t want to have your reputation tarnished, neglect or malpractice the case, get sued by a disgruntled client, or be subjected to a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, or accused of professional misconduct. Take care of your reputation, it’s your most valuable asset, or you run the grave risk of breaching the cannons of ethics and facing the ethics Tribunal with a violation of unethical behavior. Here’s Why You Take Care of Your Reputation “What we’ve got here... is failure to communicate.” (A famous line from the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke. Spoken by The Captain, the imperious prison warden played by Strother Martin.) The total number of formal Complaints filed against attorneys has been on the increase for the last several years. For the fiscal year 2012-2013 there were a total of 1,057 complaints received. Private admonitions were authorized in 64 cases and 133 cases resulted in renditions by the Kentucky Supreme Court (disbarment, suspension, reprimand, and dismissed). The total number of lawyers licensed in the state of Kentucky was 17,432. The percentage of Kentucky lawyers with complaints filed 2012-2013 was 3.95%. The balance of 195 Complaints address other rules shown in the chart on the following page. There are in excess of 1,000 Complaints filed each year with the Kentucky Bar Association with a current Bar Membership of over 17,000 KBA members. It is painfully obvious that many lawyers are not versed in the skill of communication / client public relations. Practicing attorneys need to pay more attention to their phone calls received, client letters received and conversations with a client in person at their office. It needs to be clearly explained to the client that there will be times where there will be no activity in the case as the case progresses. The lawyer needs to explain his procedure in responding to phone calls, letters and significant events as the case unfolds. The client needs to understand that there are always open lines of communication through the lawyer’s secretary, receptionist, law clerk, associates or assigned office personnel when he/she is unavailable. The lawyer needs to develop form letters and/or cover letters to send to his/her clients on a regular basis keeping the client constantly informed as to the progress being made in the case. Clients get anxious when they don’t receive an immediate returned phone call or reply to a letter they wrote to the lawyer. The vast majority of all KBA complaints begin with a claim of the lack of communication with the lawyer and then addresses other grievances. It is the lawyer’s job to keep his/her client informed each step along the way. Th is communication will certainly help the attorney-client relationship and keep the lawyer from being named as a Respondent in an ethical Complaint. The rules to avoid a Bar complaint are really quite simple. Perhaps Coach John Wooden’s much quoted views will shed some light on the topic: Coach Wooden’s “Two Sets of Threes” “My father had what he called his ‘two sets of threes.’ They were direct and simple rules aimed at how he felt we should conduct ourselves in life. The first set was about honesty: 1. Never lie. 2. Never cheat. 3. Never steal. It required no explanation. My brothers and I knew what it meant and that he expected us to abide by it. The second set of threes was about dealing with adversity: 1. Don’t whine. 2. Don’t complain. 3. Don’t make excuses. Some people today may think these are naive or kind of corny. But think a moment about what they mean and who you become if you abide by them. Th is isn’t naive. You don’t become corny. Dad’s two sets of threes were a compass for me in trying to do the right thing and behaving in a proper manner.” – John Wooden TEN COMMANDMENTS FOR LAWYERS I. Have a clear understanding of why you are being retained and by whom. II. Have a clear written understanding as to the fee arrangement and fee division. III. Answer your phone calls promptly. IV. Keep your clients informed. V. Treat your clients with dignity and courtesy. VI. If you say you are going to do something, do it. VII. Never lie to a client. VIII. Use EXTREME CAUTION in business dealings with clients. IX. Don’t become amorous with clients. X. Have an Escrow and Attorney account and know when and how to use each.
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