How can you avoid being disciplined?

By Sylvia Hsieh

The Daily Record Newswire

Like women's hemlines, complaints against lawyers also go up in tough economic times.

While a client may be dissatisfied for any number of reasons, the No. 1 way to avoid getting a letter from the disciplinary committee is good client communication, according to Lewis Tesser, a lawyer in New York who defends lawyers and other professionals in disciplinary actions.

Clients are remarkably tolerant in terms of the results of their case, as long as they feel they have been part of the process, Tesser said.

A proactive approach is to discuss your client's expectations about communications, since every client will differ as to how often and what modes of communication he prefers.

Besides the day-to-day communications, the other area where lawyers get into trouble is not keeping their clients in the loop when changes come up.

Don't pretend you can get a brief done by Monday if life interferes and you know it won't be done until Thursday.

If you come across a case that needs further research or some other unexpected hurdle that will require more billable hours, warn the client that the bill will be higher than anticipated.

''The worst thing to do is surprise them with a bill without telling them,'' Tesser said.

Lawyers may try to avoid giving clients bad news about their case, but that is a mistake. ''If a lawyer doesn't want to face the unpleasantness of letting a client know about adverse results, it could lead to poor communication and a dissatisfied client,'' Tesser offered.

Some disciplinary complaints address behavior that goes beyond bad communication and into bad judgment. Even good lawyers can commit disciplinary infractions, especially when surrounded by clients under stress, but if a lawyer is facing a disciplinary complaint involving poor judgment, Tesser suggested looking closer to home for the root cause.

Sometimes that requires a good look in the mirror.

''Whatever the reason for the poor judgment - whether it's stress, alcoholism or marital problems - it's always easier to recognize that sort of thing in someone else than in yourself,'' Tesser said.

Lawyers who address only the disciplinary complaint without solving the underlying problem wind up winning the battle but losing the war - and usually end up before the disciplinary committee again, Tesser cautioned.

Published: Mon, Sep 20, 2010


  1. No comments
Sign in to post a comment »