In case you missed it, June’s 2013 Lunch & Learn was, “Everything the Young Lawyer Needs to Know about Not Getting Your Name in the Back of the Bar Journal.” Our panel of highly esteemed ethics attorneys: Robert Tobey, Partner at Johnston Tobey, P.C., Paul Koning, Partner at Koning Rubarts, LLP, and Marilea Lewis, Partner at Godwin Lewis, P.C. presented a number of ways to avoid grievances and malpractice suits. Here are the highlights:

  1. Disciplinary problems start with poor client screening. Don’t take a matter that is beyond your competency. Don’t take a client who has sued or grieved a previous attorney. And, don’t take a client with unrealistic expectations. Trust your instincts.
  2. Have a written fee agreement. Clearly set out the scope of the representation and who the client is. The client may not be the person paying the bill. Be clear where your duty lies.
  3. Have a trust account and use it correctly. Funds in your trust account are not your money. Mishandling client money can result in criminal prosecution. And, you have to keep your trust account records for five years.
  4. Don’t submit invoices “For Services Rendered.” Be detailed in the descriptions of your work. It may be the only written record of a communication you had with the client that he/she is disputing. Which brings us to…
  5. Communicate effectively with your client. Return all phone calls within 24 hours. Check in periodically if there is a lull in the matter. And communicate everything that happens in the matter.

The picture the panel painted is that the common grievance is usually a problem that starts small and snowballs. There is usually a failure of normal human behavior and lack of communication is usually only an exasperating factor.