Boundaries are important. In sports, they define the area of play. In real estate, they designate what one owns. And in personal relationships, they mark the emotional and physical limits everyone establishes in order to protect themselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by someone else. In short, personal boundaries mark the place where one individual ends and another begins. Why is this important in the context of practicing law? Because when two people enter an attorney-client relationship……
Now, I will readily admit that many times co-counsel relationships work out just fine. At the conclusion of representation everyone, including the client, feels satisfied in how it all went. My interest, however, is in looking at the times when it doesn’t go well and Betty’s story is one worthy of discussion.
As a backup, redundant calendars certainly have their place; however their real value can only be realized when they become independent from the primary calendar because mistakes happen. Calendaring errors are behind a significant percentage of malpractice claims across the country and a common calendaring misstep is simply a data entry error, be it an incorrectly entered date or a date that never made it into the calendar.
One common concern I continue to hear from lawyers trying to do so is frustration over not knowing the specifics of what to do. While our Rules of Professional Conduct and various ethics opinions mandate all kinds of things to include requiring lawyers to take steps to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client [See ABA Model Rule 1.6 (c)], these rules and opinions often fail to provide any meaningful guidance.
In order to try and address this problem, I have put together the following checklist. It is intended to help those of you who have a desire to become more cyber secure know where to start.
In the middle of a conversation with one of our insureds on the topic of the difficulty of learning to say no, the fine gentleman I was conversing with did a jump shift on me. For whatever reason, he felt it was important to acknowledge that he was cognizant of his age and he wanted me to know he had taken steps to make sure he continues to practice law competently. What really struck me, however, was his desire to also share he had instructed others at his firm to let him know if they were to ever see him start to mentally slip, because in his words “the day will come when…” How will you proceed when day comes when….?
Occasionally lawyers still call in asking if it’s ethically permissible to place data in the cloud and often wanting to talk about the associated risks. I get it. For those who haven’t intentionally moved to the cloud already, trying to understand the risks and learning how to responsibly manage them can be a bit intimidating. Thankfully, a number of ethics opinions have been issued on this topic over the years so the answer to their questions is usually a rather straight forward one. Basically, it’s yes as long as you do your due diligence on the vendor and couple that with taking appropriate steps to see that your data is properly secured in transit as well as when at rest.
You’ve just been through some very intense contract negotiations for a new client and now that things are wrapping up, this client thought the time was right to let you know that once your work is complete, you are to turn over everything in your file. In short, you’ve just been informed you are not to retain anything relating to this matter. As a risk guy, I now have serious concerns. If you comply, how in the world could you defend yourself in a subsequent malpractice claim? Remember, the client will have complete control of the file. Admittedly, this kind of situation doesn’t happen often; but it does happen. So, let’s talk about your options if you ever find yourself in a similar pickle.
As I often like to do, let me share two brief stories. The first involves a criminal defense lawyer. This lawyer represented a client who staunchly refused to allow the lawyer to call his girlfriend to testify at trial. There may have been other witness who the lawyer could have called as well; however, the client simply refused to ever discuss the matter. Here’s the problem, this client has somehow always managed to find his way out of trouble; but this time was going to be different and the lawyer knew it. This time the client was likely to spend a serious amount of time behind bars unless she could find a way to convince her client to work with her……
For the past 20 years, I have worked for an insurance company that insures lawyers for their malpractice. Trust me when I say I get it. There are going to be times when an insured doesn’t necessarily agree with every decision the company must make in trying to resolve his or her claim. That’s going to happen. What I don’t get is when an insured makes a decision to prevent us from helping at all.
There may be a time when a client wants to speak directly with the other side simply hoping to move the process forward. Truth be told, I’ve been there as a client. It felt as if my legal matter wasn’t progressing as fast as I thought it should and it seemed to me that the attorneys were the ones getting in the way. I started to wonder if I couldn’t move things along by just having a one on one with the other side. So, what does a good attorney do?