WASHINGTON, D.C. September 29, 2012 - Yes, I get it. As an attorney I find more than an adequate number of people (even relatives) who are anxious to tell me their favorite lawyer joke. Why did the lawyer in the ocean get a free pass from the sharks? Professional courtesy. Add ethical conduct into the discussion and then, to some, the words lawyer and ethics do not fit into the same sentence. Every occupation has its bad apples. Why do used-car salesman get such a bad rap? For lawyers, the bar is higher, because we are entrusted with helping you, guiding you and directing you through some of life’s most important matters.
I cannot change the minds of those who simply do not like lawyers. I can tell you however, that moving past “bedside manner”, most attorneys do adhere to our profession’s requirements in adhering to ethical conduct. Ethics are among the highest of priorities for bar associations and attorney licensing authorities. You should know that most states require attorneys to take continuing legal education courses, and many of those require that continuing ethics training is included.
I am licensed in Maryland and Virginia. Maryland does not require continuing legal education. Virginia does.
I just completed my Virginia requirements for this year. The course I took was titled Tried and True: Top Ten Malpractice Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them. The class included a good deal involving ethical standards (note that committing malpractice is not necessarily the same as being unethical, but the two often overlap). While I have been an attorney for thirty-two years now (congratulatory cards and letters accepted; my anniversary is October 1st), I never tire of the learning and updates involved in my practice area and in the general concepts that govern what I do and how I do it. Learning makes me more effective, more proficient, and better able to help my clients. This includes the ethical learning and re-learning that takes place. Every year or so, it seems, new requirements take effect, and taking the classes are, in my mind, a good thing and necessary to be up to date. I think most attorneys agree.
I thought I’d share some of the information that came from the class. The public needs to know that despite the bad rap we lawyers sometimes get, there is an underlying, beautiful structure that governs how we act.
First, some statistics; then, some concepts that may have use for you in dealing with your attorney.
The incidence of complaints about lawyers by their clients is very small. The top two practice areas triggering malpractice complaints are (1) real estate and (2) personal injury matters. Residential settlements and commercial transactions account for the bulk of complaints and lawsuits in this area. Next is personal injury (that’s what I do). Claims against law firms consisting of 2-5 attorneys get the highest number of complaints (2.2 claims annually for every lawyer in the firm), whereas claims against solo practitioners only found .77 claims annually.
The types of errors lawyers made breaks down as follows (2007 American Bar Association statistics):
Substantive Errors: 46.61%
*Failure to know the law
*Planning or procedure error
*Failure to know deadlines
*Error, pubic record search
*Conflict of Interest
Administrative Errors: 28.63%
*Failure to calendar/react to calendar
*Failure to file document
Intentional Wrongs: 13.53%
Client Relations: 11.22%
*Failure to obtain client consent
*Failure to follow client instructions
So again, the course I took discussed how to avoid legal malpractice. Allow me to share one of the things discussed: how an attorney should properly “manage” the relationship with his or her client. I chose this area because if you are having problems with your attorney, perhaps this information will be helpful.
We were told (reminded) to fully explain the fee to our clients. Fee arrangements are always to be in writing. Reporting work done and billing procedures are to be explained. Explaining fees means the client should have a good idea of the total cost of the representation. An analogy given was that of buying a car: you want to know the full cost before you sign the papers.
We were told (reminded) to listen to you. It is your legal matter. While filing a lawsuit may be available, you do not always want to do that. We should ask you questions. We should learn your goals and objectives. We should propose alternatives and multiple solutions if available. You are the decision maker.
We were told (reminded) to maintain good communication. This requires us to promptly return your call or email, that we are on time for appointments, and that we update you regularly about your case. We should explain delays and advise you of expected completion dates.
We were told (reminded) to be personable. Imagine that: a class for lawyers telling us to be personable. An interesting fact I learned several years ago: most people who file medical malpractice lawsuits against their doctor say they would not have done so if the doctor was nice to them and explained things. Enough said. We lawyers should be personable. We are being told this by our peers because clearly some of us are not.
There is much more. The course materials were 44 pages.
How do you know if a politician is lying? Mouth is open. Hmmm… some politicians are lawyers.
Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website. He is also available to speak to your group on numerous legal topics. Paul is the featured legal analyst on the Washington Times Radio, on the Andy Parks show, on Wednesdays at 5:15 P.M., and he is a columnist on the Washington Times Communities.
His book The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You is free to Maryland and Virginia residents and can be obtained by ordering it on his website; others can obtain it on Amazon.
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