Ethicking

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Like many lawyers, I’m not dealing with most of my clients on their best day. Their license is being investigated, they’ve discovered a mistake, or their client is demanding money because of an actual or perceived problem. My clients often want to get their matters over with quickly. A question I get frequently, often in the initial consultation, is whether the lawyer can offer to settle the matter financially with their client to make everything go away. This is a “no, not everything” answer. First, if you’re in a position where you’re being asked to pay or are considering it…
So. We’ve been at this for a year. A year. A year ago, my colleagues and I sat around the conference table, trying to parse what health authorities were saying and what it might mean for law practice generally and our work specifically.  We discussed what would happen if people needed to quarantine, and whether we should make sure everyone was set up to receive email remotely, or what might happen in a worst-case scenario, if we had to shut down for a few weeks. We all know how that ended up. A year later, most of us are still…
Over the last couple of days, friends have forwarded articles containing interviews with members of the ex-president’s impeachment trial team, asking if they really should be spilling the tea like that? This is a question I do get generally, so let’s call this a FAQ: Aren’t these things supposed to be confidential? Are lawyers really supposed to talk to media other than to say “no comment”? Lawyers working on cases that garner media attention can and do talk to the media, but what they can say depends on a variety of factors, one of which is confidentiality. Lawyers are…
By now, just about every lawyer has received multiple forwards of the Lawyer Zoom Cat video. For those of you not so lucky, a Texas lawyer accidentally appeared at Zoom court with a filter activated that turned him into a talking cat. He assured the judge that he was, indeed, not a cat and was trying to disable the filter but was able to proceed. The linked article indicates he was using his secretary’s computer, and after changing the filter back, the hearing continued without incident. It was a funny and all-too-human moment in 2021, and I hope a…
I do not remember much from my law school orientation. I remember there was a continental breakfast and some small group sessions, and I remember feeling really, really old at 30, even though in the outside world the age gap between my youngest colleagues (22ish) and me was not that big. “Oh, you’re new to Milwaukee?” I asked one of my group-mates. “Where are you living?” “I have an apartment off-campus with three kids.” “Oh nice! My partner has a three-year-old. How old are your kids?” “No, I meant me and two other kids. Law students.” Beyond that, I remember…
The Wisconsin State Bar Standing Committee on Professional Ethics (of which I am a member) recently approved Formal Opinion EF-21-01, which clarifies when you can threaten someone with criminal prosecution to gain advantage in a civil manner (and withdraws a 2001 opinion). The opinion notes that a prior rule banning the practice outright was repealed in 2007. Now, however, lawyers are cautioned to tread carefully, and avoid doing so unless the civil and criminal matters are related to each other and both are well founded. The opinion also differentiates between threatening to report purported criminal conduct and threatening to…
I remember at the end of the George W. Bush administration, some comedians said that the Obama administration would put them out of business, what with Obama’s lack of propensity for scandal or gaffes. While of course that didn’t happen (the comedy world survived Obama’s tan suits and fancy mustard just fine), I’ve been asked (once) whether I am worried I won’t have blog fodder after all of the ridiculous election and Trump-related litigation is over. I am not. First, it’s not going to be over for a long time. And second, while I’ll miss picking on Giuliani (whenever he…
This is the non-lawyer version of a question I get a lot from lawyer clients—”how long is this disciplinary proceeding going to take?” Unfortunately for lawyers facing discipline and curious lay folks alike, there’s no real answer. I know people get tired of hearing this from lawyers, but really, “it depends.” Every disciplinary authority has its own internal case processing goals, but it is often difficult to determine whether a particular case will fall within the guidelines. Wisconsin’s Office of Lawyer Regulation’s annual report discusses its case processing statistics from the prior year, which can help provide a general sense…
Breaking up is hard to do. (After all, it’s cuffing season.) This axiom is as true in a professional setting as it is in a personal one. How to ditch your quarantine bae before they’re vaccinated is beyond the scope of a legal ethics blog (as is whether I should ever use the term “quarantine bae” ever again). But firing a client and withdrawing from representation is sometimes absolutely necessary, regardless of what the calendar says. Perhaps they won’t return your calls, or are refusing to pay your bill, or you can’t see eye to eye about…
This happens frequently when lawyers are in the news—social media lights up with calls to disbar them for doing whatever the posters believe was out of line. Now, as someone with an increasingly public practice, I wait with bated breath to see if and when the virtual torches and pitchforks come for my license. I’d like to say I’d see it as a badge of honor, but probably in action I would not be as amused. This post is not about whether any lawyer currently in the news deserves discipline, but about the process. So: 1) It is true, anyone…
Now that the Thanksgiving turkey or Tofurkey or frozen pizza has been consumed and the leftovers put away, attention turns to Christmas, Hanukkah, and other winter gift-giving occasions. This also means that fruit baskets and bottles of wine and those giant tins of popcorn begin showing up on doorsteps and on breakroom tables, gifts from vendors, or occasionally, from clients. (Well, in normal years. I’m not sure how this will play out this year. But let’s assume it will.) There’s no ethical problem in accepting token gifts like this for a job well done, or for that matter, just because.…
All eyes are on the Middle District of Pennsylvania, which is set to hear arguments in one of the Trump Campaign’s voting lawsuits today. Enter Rudy Giuliani, who has applied for pro hac vice admission despite his last federal court appearance being before some lawyers were born. However, it looks like Rudy may have some problems right out of the gate, in addition to all of his other problems. On page 2 of his application, he represents that he is in good standing in several bars, including the District of Columbia. However, as of 10:45 a.m. Central time…
Just a quick update as I deal with election aftermath*, but I did want to announce that I have been admitted to practice law in Illinois. Apparently it takes a bit for the ARDC web site to catch up, but I can hold myself out as an Illinois lawyer and call administrative agencies there on clients’ behalf without running afoul of UPL rules. But no, friends from high school, I can’t handle your divorce or draft your will. I mean, I guess legally I can, but it would be a bad idea. *Yes, I do election law too. In…
That’s right, if you can believe it, Ethicking.com launched one year ago, on October 24, 2019. …so, what a year, huh? Like anything that was launched a year ago with certain (any) expectations, this did not go as I’d planned. Sure, I did manage to keep up with the blog generally, updating every couple of weeks or so (and sometimes more often, though not quite at the weekly frequency I’d hoped). I thought I’d be writing about ABA opinions, nerd friends, and best practices, and I did that. And, sadly, I knew at this time last…
(Note to self: I really need to find better free clip art.) Years ago, in law school, I wrote this in my “ethics journal” (which I found tedious at the time and here I am, ethics journaling for the world to see): This does make me wonder: Are attorneys bound under the Model Rules or their state equivalents if they’re not actively engaged in the practice of law but in a position where their legal knowledge and training influences their work? I would assume that if I worked as a lawyer during the day and decorated cakes by night, I…