In a recent interview, Scott Drexel, Chief Trial Counsel for The State Bar of California, made the following suggestions to stay away from trouble with The State Bar:
1. Know the rules of professional conduct of your State. For example, in California, whenever there is a complaint against an attorney, he/she has a duty to cooperate with the investigating body. To me, this sounds like a violation of one’s Fifth Amendment rights; but, failure to cooperate is analogous “obstruction of justice” and is a separate violation of the rules. Also, settling a malpractice action cannot contain a provision for withdrawal of a State Bar complaint without becoming a separate complaint by itself. I think many attorneys would fail the quiz if these questions were on it.
2. Supervise your staff. Failure to supervise your staff properly has become a major issue in California. Too often, staff is deemed to have “practiced law” by their actions – a clear violation of the rules.
3. Create a law practice management plan. More than 50% of all complaints against attorneys have a connection to the management of the office. Failure to pay attention to The Business of Law® will cause much grief for the lawyer.
4. Communicate! Failure to respond to clients is still the number one complaint against lawyers. A 1994 Oregon Bar study showed that confidence in one’s lawyer as evidenced by their responsiveness is more important than the results achieved. Sounds like a good bed-side manner covers many ills.
5. Don’t delegate. Contrary to the rule of delegating authority to perform tasks, one cannot delegate responsibility for your office, including trust accounts. Embezzlement occurs all too often because the lawyer failed to retain control. Despite the criminal action of a staff person, it is the lawyer who will be disciplined by the Bar, it is the lawyer who must make restitution, and it is the lawyer whose reputation will be sullied. From my perspective, this is a very sad way to end one’s career; it can be an economically disastrous way to end one’s career as well.
These are 5 lessons that should be learned well by every lawyer, irrespective of one’s State.