As an attorney here in California, you more than likely take potential ethics violations seriously. You are careful to follow the rules that you may think could lead to problems.
More than likely, you would not knowingly put your legal license in jeopardy since it is your livelihood, and your integrity and reputation are at stake. However, you would be surprised how many attorneys make seemingly simple mistakes that do just that.
Watch out for these common mistakes
You may, or may not, be surprised at how many attorneys make the following mistakes or oversights that give rise to ethical complaints:
- In some cases, you may work with attorneys in other offices on behalf of the same client. If you fail to disclose your fee-sharing agreement and what duties each attorney will handle for the client, you could find yourself in hot water.
- You need to remain in contact with your clients. Even if you can’t answer phone calls yourself, at least keep your client updated through written correspondence, since even a note letting them know you haven’t forgotten about them could make a great deal of difference.
- You need to put your fee agreements in writing and send a letter when your representation of a client ends.
- If you intend to invest with current or former clients, make sure that it is clear you don’t represent them. You may want to obtain the client’s consent to this relationship and advise him or her to obtain independent legal advice.
- Make sure that funds deposited into your trust account as settlement for a client clear before writing your client a check. A bounced check will probably trigger an investigation.
- Make sure that you carefully follow all of the rules regarding trust accounts. This is a sticky point even for experienced and seasoned attorneys.
- Follow the rules when it comes to notarizing. Have the client present when it occurs and do not sign your client’s name.
Following these rules could keep you out of trouble with the bar association. Often, these mistakes occur when an attorney becomes complacent or fails to pay attention to detail. Even if a staff member is the one who makes a mistake, the buck stops with you. You are in charge of what happens in your office, and that often means dealing with or overseeing mundane tasks, at least occasionally or periodically, to ensure one handles them properly. If anything does come up, you may be better off facing it head-on and immediately before it becomes an issue that could jeopardize your license.