Lawyers, more than most other professionals, have a seemingly endless amount of rules to follow when it comes to ethics. It may be a lot to keep in mind, but with repercussions like license suspension, every lawyer should familiarize themselves with their ethics requirements.
If at any time you’re unsure about whether or not something could be considered unethical in the eyes of your bar association, such as an upcoming ad you’d like to run or how you plan to handle a client matter, don’t hesitate to call your bar’s ethics hotline. It’s much better to present the potential scenario than to go ahead with your actions and find yourself in trouble over them. Your bar association will be able to provide you with clear guidance on how to move forward.
The power of social media is unquestionable. With its ability to reach a wide audience and to establish firm and personal branding, all from a computer, many firms are adding social media to their marketing strategy. With ethics opinions on the use of social media varying from state to state, how to approach it ethically is a grey area for many lawyers.
To make sure you’re posting in a way that’s not going to put you in front of the ethics committee, consider the following:
- Refrain from offering legal advice. You don’t know what jurisdiction someone is in and you also don’t want to risk establishing a lawyer-client relationship.
- Don’t post confidential client information.
- Consider your state rules when crafting posts. Whatever the rules are surrounding other forms of attorney advertising in your state, you should adhere to them when using social media. While there may be no clear opinion issued, you don’t want to be the lawyer that’s made an example of.
A common area for pitfalls that land lawyers in compliance trouble, trust accounting has some of the most extensive ethics rules and regulations lawyers need to be aware of. Acting as a fiduciary for client funds comes with a lot of responsibility, so to stay compliant and be audit-ready keep the following in mind:
- Avoid commingling of funds. Trust and operating account funds should always stay separated.
- Don’t overdraft individual client ledgers.
- Keep appropriate records and run regular reports. Always be ready to provide an audit trail and to have required reports on hand in the event of an audit.
Outsourcing Legal Work
It’s common to use outside help when handling caseloads, whether it’s administrative, billing, or legal support tasks. Sometimes necessary for running a thriving practice and handling the ebbs and flows of workloads, outsourcing legal work can present ethical considerations. To ensure client confidentiality and avoid any issues where work is handled improperly under your license, you should:
- Get a signed confidentiality agreement.
- Research providers and conduct due diligence as to data storage
- Make sure any upcharges on outsourced work pass a reasonability test.Take a look at ABA Formal Opinion 451 to see what qualifies as reasonable.
These are just some of the things lawyers need to keep in mind while running their practice. When it comes to bar associations, they won’t accept not knowing about a particular rule as a reason for why it was broken, so make sure to familiarize yourself with all ethics requirements. These are just some of the many rules lawyers need to follow, but you should also be aware of general advertising and website ethics along with traditional accounting, case management, and client confidentiality rules.