April 26, 2017

The End of Law Firms? Legal Service Delivery in the 21st Century

3e5ee2a2014 marked the 100th anniversary of World War I – the “Tipping Point” wherein the automobile forever replaced the horse as the predominant form of ground transportation in the modern era. In the three decades that followed World War I, livery stables closed and buggy whip manufacturers went out of business.

The Great Recession of 2008 has served as a “Tipping Point” of its own sort for the legal profession, where alternative legal services delivery models – LegalZoom for consumers and Legal Process Outsourcing companies (“LPOs”) for corporations – now challenge the monopoly that traditional law firms once held for legal services delivery. Prices for legal services are plummeting in a free fall. Competition for clients is at an all-time high, even as U.S. law schools churn out 44,000 new lawyers a year into a 100% saturated legal market. Corporate clients in the current buyers’ market are increasingly demanding lower, fixed prices and value-based Alternative Fee Arrangements (“AFAs”) in lieu of hourly billing – making law firms bear the ‘risk of loss’ in uncertain but complex litigation and transaction matters – even as the costs of running law firms continue to climb. To survive, most law firms have already morphed from their 1980s ‘Pyramid’ shaped organizational structures into ‘Diamond’ shaped organizational structures staffed by experienced attorneys – with virtually no associates to ‘fill out’ the base of once ‘Pyramid’ shaped law firm. But some commentators believe that this ‘Diamond’ shaped organizational structure is only a temporary change – like the hull of a great ship that rises out of the water before the whole thing sinks. What if in our lifetime we are watching the end of law firms, just as our great grandfathers watched the end of livery stables? From ‘Pony Express’ to ‘Federal Express’…

In this thought-provoking CLE presentation, attorney Mark Lassiter presents his vision of how the legal profession can ‘rise like the great Phoenix out of the ashes’ of its current malaise – all without traditional law firms. He argues that, if current legal trends continue unabated, the historic law firms as we have known them must become extinct – with the largest dying last. He does NOT argue that lawyers will not practice together with each other in communities or associations. Rather, he argues that such associations will look different from the traditional law firms of the 20th Century, which still prevail (for now…). He predicts a day when future lawyers will collaborate and work together on legal matters in Cloud based, temporary ‘teams’– not based on law firm allegiances or employment, but rather on their own, specific expertise and skill sets. In other words, the ‘mission’ (not the ‘law firm’) will drive and determine the lawyers and staff recruited to a temporary legal team – allowing clients to ‘cherry pick’ the best, most qualified lawyers and legal staff for the clients’ unique legal matters – with all legal work tasks being monitored and controlled from secure, Cloud-based portals. Such arrangements will empower solo and small practice lawyers, ‘Soccer Mom’ and ‘Disabled Dad’ lawyers, and young, new lawyers as never before.

If you are a new, small, solo or part-time lawyer you won’t want to miss hearing how the coming decades may actually be the best yet for attorneys like you. Come and watch this thought-provoking presentation from one of America’s emerging legal thought leaders.

 

CLE Program — The End of Law Firms? Rethinking Legal Services Delivery in the 21st Century

This CLE presentation will occur on July 19, 2016, at the CBA-CLE offices (1900 Grant Street, Third Floor). Register online or call (303) 860-0608.

Can’t make the live program? Register for the live webcast here.

Five Cybersecurity Tech Tips: Worries to Give You the Willies

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Attorney at Work on January 29, 2016. Reprinted with permission. See below for information about ordering Colorado CLE’s homestudy for our program, “Data Privacy & Information Security: Meeting the Challenges of this Complex and Evolving Area of the Law.”

By Sharon Nelson and John Simek

A keyboard with a red button - Privacy

A keyboard with a red button – Privacy

There are lots of cybersecurity worries to give you the willies in the wee hours of the morning, but we were asked to pick five. So here are some of the most common threats for lawyers to keep in mind.

1. Ransomware. We continue to see law firms struck by ransomware, which is a type of malware that encrypts your data (restricting your access to it) and then demands a ransom payment — usually in bitcoins — to get your data back. Training your employees not to click on suspicious attachments or links in email will help. They should stay away from suspicious sites as well since ransomware can be installed by just “driving by” an infected website.

Overwhelmingly, from a technological standpoint, you can defeat ransomware by having a backup that is immune to it. This can mean, particularly for solo lawyers, that you back up and then disconnect the backup from the network. For others, it means running an agent-based backup system rather than one that uses drive letters. Make sure your IT consultant has your backup engineered so that backups are protected — that way, even if you are attacked with ransomware, you can thumb your nose at the thief’s demands for money because you can restore your system from your backup. Of course, this means backups need to be made frequently to avoid any significant data loss.

2. Employees. Employees are by nature rogues. Every study made shows employees will ignore policies (assuming they exist) to do what they want to do. This often means people bring their own devices (BYOD) which may be infected when they connect to your network. They may also bring their own network (BYON) or bring their own cloud (BYOC). Certainly, your policies should disallow these practices (in our judgment) or, at least, manage the risks by controlling what it is done by implementing a combination of policies and technology.

Oh, and employees steal your data or leave it on flash drives or their home devices, too. This means you have “dark data” — data you don’t know about and over which you have no control. This means you may miss data required in discovery because you don’t know it exists. Your data may not be protected in compliance with federal or state laws and regulations. And you have no way to manage the data because you don’t know it is there. Once again, a combination of policies and technology should be in place to prevent these issues.

3. Targeted phishing. This is perhaps the greatest and most successful threat to law firm data. Someone has you in their sights — often they have done research on your law firm. They may know the cases you are involved in — and who your opponents are. They may know the managing partner’s nickname. Everything they know about you, they may use to get you to click on something (say, an email from an opponent referencing a specific case and saying “The next hearing in ___ case has been rescheduled as per the attachment). Many a lawyer has clicked on such attachments — or a link within an email.

The best solution to protect yourself from targeted phishing is training and more training — endlessly. One California firm was targeted by multiple phishing attacks but survived them because the lawyers and staff who received such emails questioned their authenticity.

Forget the loss of billable time. The loss of money, time and even clients due to a data breach can be far worse.

4. Interception of confidential information. Start with the proposition that everyone wants your data, including cybercriminals, hackers and nation states (including our own). Frankly, if they want your data and they have sophisticated tools, they will get it. So shame on you if you are not employing encryption (which is now cheap and easy) to protect confidential data transmitted and received via voice, text, and email. Encryption today is a law firm’s best friend. You may choose to use it always or in cases where it is warranted — but you surely should have the capability of encrypting.

5. Failure to use technology to enforce passwords policies. First, let us say that you should use multi-factor authentication where available and use it to protect sensitive data. But failing that, we recognize that passwords are still king in solo practices and small to midsize firms. Therefore, have your IT consultant assist you in setting up policies that can be enforced by technology, requiring that network passwords be changed every 30 days, not reused for an extended period of time — and mandating strong passwords (14 or more characters in length, utilizing upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols). Passphrases are best. Iloveattorneyatwork2016! would do nicely.

There are many other “willies” out there, but address them one digestible chunk at a time!

Sharon D. Nelson (@SharonNelsonEsq) and John W. Simek (@SenseiEnt) are the President and Vice President of Sensei Enterprises, Inc., a digital forensics, legal technology and information security firm based in Fairfax, VA. Popular speakers and authors, they have written several books, including “The 2008-2015 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guides” and “Encryption Made Simple for Lawyers.” Sharon blogs at Ride the Lightning and together they co-host of the Digital Detectives podcast.

 

CLE Homestudy: Data Privacy & Information Security — Meeting the Challenges of this Complex and Evolving Area of the Law

This CLE presentation took place Friday, January 22, 2016. Order the homestudy here: CDMP3 audioVideo OnDemand.

Data Privacy & Information Security: Meeting the Challenges of this Complex and Evolving Area of the Law

The breakneck speed at which technology is advancing presents both extraordinary opportunity and unprecedented risk to you and your clients. As data breaches and cyber attacks increase, so do the costs associated with preventing and dealing with them when — not if — they happen.

This practical seminar provides guidance on the state of the law on data security and privacy, as well as sound practices on how to minimize risk of a breach. Learn about data security and privacy issues with the European Union and Changes to the Safe Harbor Act, as well as the status of negotiations over the General Data Protection Regulations. Learn the reasonable measures to take in case of a breach, as well as best practices for advising your board and executives. Discover the latest challenges in employment law, as well as ethical dilemmas.

 

CLE Program: Data Privacy & Information Security — Meeting the Challenges of this Complex and Evolving Area of the Law

This CLE presentation will take place Friday, January 22, 2016, in the CLE Large Classroom. Click here to register for the live program and click here to register for the webcast, or call (303) 860-0608.

Can’t make the live program? Order the homestudy here: CDMP3 audioVideo OnDemand.

Top Ten Law Practice Management Programs and Homestudies

The year is almost over, and with it the compliance period is ending for many Colorado attorneys. As we draw to a close with our review of the Top Ten Programs and Homestudies in several substantive practice areas, we wanted to include something important to practitioners across all fields of law—law practice management and legal writing. Colorado CLE offers law practice management and legal writing programs throughout the year, including classes on how to use Adobe Acrobat in a law practice, analyzing financial statements, conducting online research, and much more. Read on for the Top Ten Law Practice Management Programs and Homestudies.

10. Essential Legal Research Methods and Resources for Colorado Lawyers. Legal research in a university setting often involves analyzing a long-standing legal issue with well-established outcomes. Research in practice, however, can focus on cutting edge and messy legal issues where the law is only starting to emerge, with conflicting and ethical issues. This program provides advanced techniques for finding and analyzing primary and secondary law sources, free legal research, and more. Three general credits; available as CD homestudy, MP3 audio download, and Video OnDemand.

9. Drafting Complex Legal Documents with Microsoft Word. This program, taught by nationally renowned speaker Barron Henley, features tips and tricks to create, share, automate, and manage electronic documents. Learn about Word’s style features, simple automation techniques, file organization, keeping documents secure while allowing comments, and more. Seven general credits, including one ethics credit; available as DVD homestudy and Video OnDemand.

8. Legal Writing in the Smartphone Age. Gone are the long, flowing emails messages with pretty graphics and lots of attachments. Today’s communication — almost 100% electronic — is immediate, brief, clear, and powerful. Designed to boost your instant or near-instant message-drafting skills, this practical half-day program will teach you how to draft clearer and more effective emails, court documents, and memoranda. Three general credits; available as CD homestudy, MP3 audio download, and Video OnDemand.

7. Accounting and How to Understand and Analyze Financial Statements. There are financial issues involved with every type of law practice and it is your duty to possess the skills and knowledge necessary to handle those issues effectively.  This detailed program will provide you with the financial literacy required to protect yourself and your clients through your understanding of accounting concepts, terminology, and financial statements. Six general credits; available as CD homestudy, MP3 audio download, and Video OnDemand.

6. iPad for Legal Professionals — Basics and Advanced. These two half-day programs provide useful tips for using iPads in a law practice. The first half covers “must-have” apps that should be on every lawyer’s iPad and tackle important security settings and how-to’s on loading documents and printing. The second half answers more advanced questions, like “How can you do legal research on the iPad? How do you give a presentation on the iPad? Do you need to buy a keyboard or stylus?” Four general credits each; available as DVD homestudy (Basics/Advanced) or Video OnDemand (Basics/Advanced).

5. Better Motion Practice — How to Argue, Present, and Write Motions More Effectively. This program is designed for lawyers who want to sharpen their skills. It provides a practical overview of various kinds of motions likely encountered in pre-trial civil practice. Specific techniques, skills, and methods for persuading the court and decision-makers are covered. The program will generally reference state and federal rules of procedure and evidence. Seven general credits; available as CD homestudy, MP3 audio download, and Video OnDemand.

4. The Art of Communication. Being a lawyer means being an effective communicator. Yet, in an increasingly electronic age, what is effective communication and how do we measure our own effectiveness in keeping our clients informed as to complex issues, guiding them in making difficult decisions, and speaking on their behalf to others? This half-day interactive seminar is designed to explore in depth the art of strategic communication by introducing participants to theories and specific practice tips concerning improved written and electronic communications. Four general credits; available as MP3 audio download and Video OnDemand.

3. How to Become Your Own Cybersleuth: Conducting Effective Internet Investigative and Background Research. In this fast-paced investigative research seminar, you will learn to create more effective Internet searches to locate information crucial to your matters, which you might otherwise miss. We will reveal hidden Google search features and shortcuts to speed up your research. You will also learn to use free public record sites and sites with free “publicly available” information (including social media sites), for discovery, trial preparation, background checks, and for locating missing persons. Discover the advantages (and limitations) of data broker databases. Each homestudy comes with a copy of the book, The Cybersleuth’s Guide to the InternetSeven general credits; available as live Video Replay in Denver on January 5, 2016, or as CD homestudy.

2. Hanging Your Shingle 2015: Hardware. Software. Anywhere You Go. In this intensive two and a half day course, you will get the tools, information and building blocks you need to confidently open the doors to your new firm. If you believe you can’t afford to venture out on your own, is it time to ask yourself if you can afford not to? Eighteen general credits, including 7.9 ethics credits; available as CD homestudy, MP3 audio download, and Video OnDemand. NOTE: This program is repeated annually. Click here for the 2014 program and click here for the 2013 program.

1. Preventing Legal Malpractice. Each year, CLE presents two Preventing Legal Malpractice programs: one directed at transactional attorneys, one directed at litigation attorneys. In addition to the printed materials, each attendee receives a copy of CLE’s book, Lawyers’ Professional Liability in Colorado. For 2016, there will be Preventing Legal Malpractice programs in Denver on March 11 and in Colorado Springs on March 17. Registration is not yet open, but save the dateFour general credits, including four ethics credits. NOTE: This program is repeated annually. Click here for the 2015 programs (transactional/litigation) and click here for the 2014 programs (transactional/litigation).

Top Programs and Homestudies — Intellectual Property, Elder Law, Immigration, and More

Over the past few weeks, we have been featuring the Top Ten Programs and Homestudies in various practice areas. Previous posts include:

Although we addressed several substantive practice areas, we offer many more great programs not featured on the previous Top Ten lists. These are discussed today.

Intellectual Property The Annual Rocky Mountain Intellectual Property & Technology Institute is the region’s premier event for IP lawyers. The 2015 Institute featured four simultaneous tracks of sessions for attorneys, covering patents and patent litigation, trademarks/copyrights, licensing, and transactional/e-commerce. As a bonus, Odyssey Beerwerks in Arvada donated custom brews for the 2015 Institute. The 2016 IP Institute is scheduled for June 2 and 3, 2016, at the Westin Westminster. Click here for more information about the IP Institute and the 2016 conference agenda.

Elder Law Colorado CLE presents an annual mountain program for elder law practitioners, the Annual Elder Law Retreat. The 2015 Retreat, held in beautiful Snowmass, discussed social security issues, including maximizing benefits; trends in VA, including special programs and applications for long-term care; atypical beneficiary requests; financial exploitation of the elderly; long-term care planning; and much more. The dates for the 2016 Retreat have not yet been announced; stay tuned to cle.cobar.org/elder for details.

Immigration — In addition to the comprehensive reference book, Immigration Law for the Colorado Practitioner, Colorado CLE offers several great immigration programs each year. Most recently, the CBA Immigration Law Section co-sponsored the program, “Immigration Law — Asylum and Other Humanitarian Relief,” which covered U visas, T visas, VAWA, special immigrant juvenile status, asylum law, and more. Find this and other important immigration law programs here.

Alternative Dispute Resolution Colorado CLE offers many great ADR programs, but the flagstone event is the 40-hour Mediation Training. This five day live program, taught by renowned mediator Judy Mares-Dixon, presents an in-depth guide to mediation as well as several breakout sessions to practice mediation skills. The 40-hour Mediation Training will occur on January 18, 19, 20, 25, and 26, 2016. Space is limited so register today.

Workers’ Compensation — Each year, the CBA Workers’ Compensation Section co-sponsors two annual events: the Workers’ Compensation Fall Update and the Workers’ Compensation Spring Update. Topics vary from year to year but each program features case law updates and news from the Division. In addition, many times medical professionals will provide education on particular types of injuries, including psychological injuries. More information about CLE’s workers’ compensation offerings can be found here.

Health Law — Two years ago, Colorado CLE began offering an annual Health Law Symposium, co-sponsored by the CBA Health Law Section and the American Health Lawyers Association. This program offers an exceptional speaker lineup of nationally recognized health law experts focused on current issues in health law of interest and concern to practicing attorneys in the rocky mountain. Topics discussed at the 2015 Health Law Symposium include discussion of the Affordable Care Act, franchising in the health care industry, HIPAA and meaningful use, antitrust rules in the provider context, and more.

Juvenile Law Although many family law programs cover topics of interest to juvenile law practitioners, this important practice area also has its own programming. Each year, Colorado CLE presents a juvenile law update, co-sponsored by the CBA Juvenile Law Section. The 2016 Juvenile Law Program, “Ethics! Ethics! Ethics!,” is scheduled for April 1, 2016, with a focus on—you guessed it—ethics. Topics covered include implicit bias, social media, ethical challenges in juvenile defense, and more. Click here to register.

Solo/Small Firm — This technically is not a practice area, but there are myriad issues that solo practitioners face while running a law business that their biglaw counterparts do not. The Solo and Small Firm Section of the CBA puts on great programming throughout the year, including topical lunches, and hosts monthly networking meetings, the Solo in Colo blog, and much more. For information on joining the Solo and Small Firm Section, click here.

If you don’t see your practice area listed here or on the previous Top Ten posts, please let us know. If you are interested at speaking at an event in your practice area, we would love to hear from you. Contact us today!

The Colorado Lawyer: Four Things to Know About Motions to Disqualify

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. Reprinted with permission.

By J. Randolph Evans, Shari L. Klevens, and Lino S. LipinskyEvans-Klevens-Lipinsky


Authors’ Note
Readers’ comments and feedback on this series of “Whoops—Legal Practice Malpractice Prevention” articles are welcomed and appreciated. References in the articles to “safest courses to proceed,” “safest course,” or “best practices” are not intended to suggest that the Colorado Rules require such actions. Often, best practices and safest courses involve more than just complying with the Rules. In practice, compliance with the Rules can and should avoid a finding of discipline in response to a grievance or a finding of liability in response to a malpractice claim. However, because most claims and grievances are meritless, effective risk management in the modern law practice involves much more. Hence, best practices and safer courses of action do more; they help prevent and more quickly defeat meritless claims and grievances.


Few things are worse for an attorney than getting a new big matter, starting work on it, and then facing a motion to disqualify. At that point, the attorney is put in the awkward position of either explaining to the client why he or she should pay more money to keep the attorney, or absorbing the fees associated with defending the motion to disqualify.

Motions to disqualify are far from rare occurrences. In recent months, a number of high-profile disqualification motions have been reported.[1] Many disqualification motions are well-founded. Others are nothing more than a litigation tactic, forcing attorneys to scramble to protect valued client relationships. Significantly, the increasing mobility of lateral attorneys (with attorneys rarely spending their entire legal careers at a single law practice or firm) has raised issues that can serve as the basis of a motion to disqualify.

Disqualification motions implicate the most important duties that an attorney owes a client: the duties of confidentiality and loyalty. Under the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct (Colorado Rules or Colo. RCP), an attorney must safeguard client confidences and secrets, subject to a few exceptions.[2] The attorney is also obligated to elevate the client’s interests above the interests of the attorney and the law firm. Disqualification motions put these obligations directly at issue.

Courts differ on how they address motions to disqualify, especially because such motions are at times simply a litigation tactic by an opposing party in search of a strategic advantage.[3] Additionally, courts are usually reluctant to interfere with a client’s choice of counsel unless the conflict is real and there are few options other than to grant disqualification.[4]

Courts also appear to distinguish between conflicts based on multiple representations and those based on successive representations.[5] After all, parties filing disqualification motions based on multiple representation conflicts are typically strangers to the attorney-client relationship.

The far more common motion to disqualify involves a former client, either of the law firm or of an individual attorney (who may have recently joined the firm). In those circumstances, courts are generally protective of confidences or secrets that the law firm or attorney may possess or to which the firm or attorney has access as a consequence of either the prior or the existing representation. According to the Colorado Supreme Court, however, a court “may not disqualify counsel on the basis of speculation or conjecture.”[6] The moving party’s burden for a motion to disqualify is satisfied only when “the motion to disqualify sets forth specific facts that ‘point to a clear danger that either prejudices counsel’s client or his adversary.’”[7]

Conflict violations are not always the focal point for resolution of a motion to disqualify. As the Colorado Supreme Court has noted, “[v]iolation of an ethical rule, in itself, is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for disqualification,” although there typically must be evidence of a violation or potential violation of “attorney ethical proscriptions,” such as those centered on the duties of loyalty and fairness or those intended to protect the integrity of the process.[8] Often, motions to disqualify turn on the risk that a client’s former attorney or law firm might be able to use against the client the confidences or secrets gained during the prior representation. This is because it “must be presumed” that a client shared confidences with its attorney pursuant to the attorney-client relationship.[9] Appreciating this distinction is important to successfully making or defeating a motion to disqualify.

In assessing motions to disqualify based on conflicts, Colorado courts also consider (1) a client’s preference for a particular counsel, (2) the client’s right to confidentiality in communications with his or her attorney, (3) the integrity of the judicial process, and (4) the nature of the particular conflict of interest involved.[10] Below are some important concepts that have emerged in the context of motions to disqualify.[11]

“Substantially Related” Matters

The Colorado Rules do not bar attorneys from representing current clients against former clients. Instead, Colo. RPC 1.9(a) provides that

[a] lawyer who has formerly represented a client in a matter shall not thereafter represent another person in the same or a substantially related matter in which that person’s interests are materially adverse to the interests of the former client unless the former client gives informed consent, confirmed in writing.

Colo. RPC 1.9 does not define a “substantially related matter,” although Comment 3 to that Rule provides some context:

Matters are “substantially related” for purposes of this Rule if they involve the same transaction or legal dispute or if there otherwise is a substantial risk that confidential factual information as would normally have been obtained in the prior representation would materially advance the client’s position in the subsequent matter.

More Than “Playbook Knowledge”

Frequently, a former client accuses the attorney of having “insider information” regarding the client that does not rise to the level of a client confidence. Indeed, even if the attorney does not possess any direct information regarding the present lawsuit or transaction, the client may say that the attorney understands how the client thinks and acts. The attorney may know the client’s bottom line for settlement or how the client prefers to approach litigation. This is often referred to as “playbook knowledge”—the attorney knows the client’s paths and approaches.

As with the “substantial relationship” test, whether an attorney’s playbook knowledge is sufficient for disqualification is heavily dependent on the facts. Thus, there is no bright-line rule or test to determine whether an attorney should be disqualified because of her or his playbook knowledge. However, Comment 3 to Colo. RPC 1.9 sets a minimum baseline: “In the case of an organizational client, general knowledge of the client’s policies and practices ordinarily will not preclude a subsequent representation.”

This comment makes clear that attorneys are permitted, under some circumstances, to engage in representations that are adverse to a former client. Possessing “general knowledge” about a client may not, by itself, be enough for disqualification. Typically, a former client seeking to disqualify a former attorney from representing an opposing party must identify specific, cogent information that the attorney possesses and show that the information is confidential and implicates the duty of loyalty.

Attorneys should not assume that possession of mere playbook knowledge precludes disqualification. Attorneys should be aware, however, that clients can make a successful case for disqualifying attorneys who had a greatly invested role with the organizational client or where the playbook knowledge is uniquely and particularly relevant to the new representation.

Avoiding the Motion to Disqualify

The best way to deal with motions to disqualify is to prevent them. Two important pre-motion strategies are effective. First, identify and resolve potential conflicts, including both multiple and successive representations, before undertaking a representation or hiring a lateral. Where a conflict exists, an effective written consent is the best defense to a motion to disqualify.

Second, take effective steps to mitigate, if not eliminate, risks that a former client’s confidences and secrets might be accessible to attorneys working on a matter involving the former client. Increasingly, courts nationwide have recognized and accepted timely, effective ethics screens as a positive factor for permitting an attorney to continue the representation, although sometimes a screen is not enough to avoid the ramifications of an imputed conflict.[12] Nonetheless, if the attorneys choose to employ a screen, it is important that it be erected before the involvement of the conflicted attorney in the new representation.[13]

Responding to a Motion to Disqualify

Upon receiving a motion to disqualify, the attorney should promptly notify the client. Attempting to defeat the motion without advising the client is not an acceptable solution.

In addition, if the motion is made by a former client, attorneys should consider providing notice of a potential circumstance to their legal malpractice insurer. Such motions are sometimes followed by either a grievance or a legal malpractice claim.

Finally, assess whether the firm or different counsel should defend the motion to disqualify. Independent counsel, free from the suggestion of economic self-interest, often can more effectively than the attorney press the case for allowing the client to keep its counsel of choice.

Conclusion

Attorneys understandably may feel apprehensive about the threat of a motion to disqualify, given the potential risk and loss of work. However, by understanding the underpinnings of this ethical issue, attorneys will be better prepared to anticipate, respond to, or even avoid motions to disqualify.


Notes

[1] E.g., Celgard, LLC v. LG Chem., Ltd, No. 2014-1675 (Fed.Cir. Dec. 10, 2014) (order disqualifying Jones Day), http://assets.law360news.com/0606000/606910/Celgard-LGC%20Order%20disqualifying%20Jones%20Day.pdf; Utica Mut. Ins. Co. v. Employers Ins. Co. of Wausau, No. 6:12-cv-01293-NAM-TWD (N.D.N.Y. Dec. 18, 2014) (denying motion for summary judgment on issue of whether Hunton & Williams should be disqualified in underlying arbitration), http://assets.law360news.com/0580000/580691/Memorandum%20and%20Order.pdf; Defendant and Counterclaimant Tate & Lyle Ingredients Americas LLC’s Notice of Motion and Motion to Disqualify Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP; Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support Thereof, Western Sugar Coop. v. Archer-Daniels-Midland Co., No. 2:11-cv-03473-CBM-MAN (Aug. 26, 2014) (motion to disqualify Squire Patton Boggs), www.law360.com/dockets/download/53fdfac81101ea655a00000b?doc_url=https%3A%2F%2Fecf.cacd.uscourts. gov%2Fdoc1%2F031119586589&label=Case+Filing.

[2] Colo. RPC 1.6.

[3] Brown v. Encompass Ins. Co. of Am., No. 14-CV-01885-RM-BNB, 2014 WL 7177378 at *2 (D.Colo. Dec. 16, 2014) (the court noted that “[m]otions to disqualify opposing counsel are viewed with suspicion”).

[4] People v. Nozolino, 298 P.3d 915, 919 (Colo. 2013) (“Disqualification of a party’s chosen attorney is an extreme remedy and is only appropriate where required to preserve the integrity and fairness of the judicial proceedings.”) (citation omitted).

[5] See, e.g., People v. Shari, 204 P.3d 453, 457 (Colo. 2009) (distinguishing between duties to current clients under Colo. RPC 1.7 and to former clients under Colo. RPC 1.9).

[6] People v. Harlan, 54 P.3d 871, 877 (Colo. 2002).

[7] Id. (quoting People ex rel. Woodard v. Dist. Ct., 704 P.2d 851, 853 (Colo. 1985)).

[8] Myers v. Porter (In re Estate of Myers), 130 P.3d 1023, 1025 (Colo. 2006).

[9] Rodriguez v. Dist. Ct., 719 P.2d 699, 704 (Colo. 1986).

[10] Shari, 204 P.3d at 460-62. See also Harlan, 54 P.3d at 877 (the Court noted that “[i]n determining whether disqualification is warranted ‘the critical question is whether the litigation can be conducted in fairness to all parties’” and explained that “[d]isqualification should not be imposed unless the claimed misconduct in some way ‘taints’ the trial or legal system”) (quoting Fed. Deposit Ins. Co. v. Isham, 782 F.Supp. 524, 528 (D.Colo. 1992)).

[11] By far the majority of successful motions to disqualify are brought on the basis of a conflict of interest with a former or concurrent client or imputation, but attorneys should also be aware that successful motions to disqualify have been brought on the following bases, among others: (1) lawyer as witness, (2) appearance of impropriety, (3) receipt of confidential data, (4) personal interest, (5) violation of the no contact rules, and (6) misconduct with a witness. See Swisher, “The Practice and Theory of Lawyer Disqualification,” 27 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 71, 77 (Winter 2014).

[12] See People ex rel. Peters v. Dist. Ct., 951 P.2d 926, 930 (Colo. 1998).

[13] See People v. Perez, 201 P.3d 1220, 1246 n.11 (Colo. 2009).

Randy Evans is an author, litigator, columnist and expert in the areas of professional liability, insurance, commercial litigation, entertainment, ethics, and lawyer’s law. He has authored and co-authored eight books, including: The Lawyer’s Handbook; Georgia Legal Malpractice Law; Climate Change And Insurance; Georgia Property and Liability Insurance Law; Appraisal In Property Damage Insurance Disputes; and California Legal Malpractice Law. He writes newspaper columns (the Atlanta Business Chronicle, the Recorder, and the Daily Report) and lectures around the world. He served as counsel to the Speakers of the 104th – 109th Congresses of the United States. He co-chairs the Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission. He serves on the Board of Governors of the State Bar of Georgia. He handles complex litigation throughout the world. He has been consistently rated as one of the Best Lawyers in America, Super Lawyer (District of Columbia and Georgia), Georgia’s Most Influential Attorneys, and Georgia’s Top Lawyers for Legal Leaders. Along with numerous other awards he has been named the “Complex Litigation Attorney of the Year in Georgia” by Corporate International Magazine, and Lawyer of the Year for Legal Malpractice Defense in Atlanta. He is AV rated by Martindale Hubble.

Shari Klevens is a partner in the Atlanta and Washington, D.C. offices of McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP. Shari represents lawyers and law firms in the defense of legal malpractice claims and advises and counsels lawyers concerning allegations of malpractice, ethical violations, and breaches of duty. In addition, Shari is the Chair of the McKenna’s Law Firm Defense and Risk Management Practice and is a frequent writer and lecturer on issues related to legal malpractice and ethics. Shari co-authored Georgia Legal Malpractice Law and California Legal Malpractice Law, which address the intricacies and nuances of Legal Malpractice law and issues that confront the new millennium lawyer. She also co-authored The Lawyer’s Handbook: Ethics Compliance and Claim Avoidance, which is an easy-to-use desk reference offering practical solutions to real problems in the modern law practice for every attorney throughout the United States.

Lino Lipinsky de Orlov is a litigation partner in the Denver office of McKenna Long & Aldridge, LLP.  He represents clients in all aspects of commercial litigation, mediation, arbitration, and appeals.  He has developed particular experience in complex business cases, particularly those involving creditor’s rights, real estate, trade secrets, and employment disputes.  Mr. Lipinsky also frequently speaks and writes on legal issues relating to technology, employment law, and ethics.   He is a member of the Colorado Bar Association’s Board of Governors and serves on the Board of the Colorado Judicial Institute.  He is a former President of the Faculty of Federal Advocates.  Among his honors, Chambers USA has recognized Mr. Lipinsky as one of Colorado’s leading general commercial litigators, and he has been included in The Best Lawyers in America.  He received his A.B. degree, magna cum laude, from Brown University and his J.D. degree from New York University School of Law, where he was a member of the New York University Law Review.

 

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

Law Week: Simple Tips For A Small Firm Owner

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in Law Week Colorado on February 18, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Catherine_ChanBy Catherine Chan

Small firm owners have to wear many hats, among them: business promoter, manager and senior attorney. Each of those roles requires the development and refinement of distinct skill sets.

In 2004 I began a solo practice specializing in immigration law. In 2010, I hired my first associate attorney. Since 2010, the firm has grown to include three active attorneys (including me), three paralegals and a receptionist. We strive to continue to grow our capacity to help more people.

Sometimes I’m asked by new attorneys to talk about my firm’s path and to offer tips for firm growth and development. The truth is that small firm ownership, management and development is not easy. Most small firm owners just went to law school; they lack an MBA. An MBA might help with the business side of things, but it is not required to apply some common-sense principles. Here are four top tips I’ve learned over the past ten years while developing a solo practice into a small firm.

First, everybody loves customer service. If you don’t feel a good communication with a prospective client, trust your gut. Don’t hire them. For the clients you do hire — it’s not just them hiring you — you must offer that constant winner: customer service.

Clients feel they receive good customer service when the people in your firm are happy to see them, glad they called and are eager to find a response to their important question. Customer service includes the aim of providing satisfaction to the client in their purchase of your legal services. Of course, a firm can’t guarantee results. It can, however, work passionately and competently for a client’s cause, case or position. A firm can prioritize client communication and listen to the client’s questions and concerns. At the end of the day, all our clients want to be heard. We win their loyalty and referrals by graciously and faithfully complying with that request.

Second, hire and empower the best team of professionals available in the market that you can afford. As a small firm owner, you do not have the luxury of acting only as a senior associate in your firm. You have to concern yourself with the task of raising revenue to sustain the firm and to grow it. Therefore, you need key team players that are competent, motivated and able to deliver consistent and accurate products.

The firm owner can and must do many things to support and maintain a great team. You must strive to provide a workplace that is relaxed, calm and supportive. You must provide your team with responsibility and challenges. This includes providing opportunities for their self-promotion and growth — you are well advised to encourage it and invest in that for your team members. A firm can encourage its team’s growth and knowledge through providing and promoting a generous CLE budget, including for the support staff. The firm can allow for work-from-home opportunities, mental health days and maternity and paternity time. The firm should encourage work-life balance in word and in deed. The firm should also create opportunities for advancement of team-members as individuals and as ambassadors of the firm. The betterment of your team in practically any dimension adds measurable value to your firm. Individuals are motivated to succeed and to shine and to grow. The firm always wins in turn. A good plan is to provide guidance and avenues for your team to succeed, attach recognition and reward and relax antiquated notions about productivity and value.

Third, identify your niche, study it and specialize. Firms can grow and add practice areas according to their goals and growth. It may be advisable, however, especially for small firms in the early stages of growth, to pick a niche and to specialize in that. Simply put, it’s easier to study one trade carefully than to attempt to study a few trades sporadically. Next, commit your intellect, passion and dedication to your expertise. Achievement and success are positively correlated with your commitment and devotion.

Fourth, you must passionately love and respect your firm and your practice. When you love something passionately, you are grateful for it, you are mindful of it, you pay it respect and admiration, you pay it kind and tender attention and you work to keep it and increase it in order to continue enjoying it.

If you are passionate about the law, you study it, you hold it in reverence, you strive at sharpening your skills, you accept challenge and responsibility and you positively promote your profession. Instilling passion in your work can affect the outcome of your cases and your practice — whatever your field, whomever your client, whatever the cause.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed trying to run a small firm. The world of unknowns, risks and fears looms large. But risk is inherent in business, and fear is not conducive to success. The unknown simply is waiting to be discovered. A small law firm filled with passionate professionals committed to their service and their trade stands poised to succeed in the law and in business.

Catherine Chan is the managing attorney at the Chan Law Firm, a small firm specializing in immigration law.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

The Colorado Lawyer: Conflicts Check—Just Do It

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. Reprinted with permission.

By J. Randolph Evans, Shari L. Klevens, and Lino S. LipinskyEvans-Klevens-Lipinsky


Authors’ Note
Readers’ comments and feedback on this series of “WhoopsLegal Practice Malpractice Prevention” articles are welcomed and appreciated. References in the articles to “safest courses to proceed,” “safest course,” or “best practices” are not intended to suggest that the Colorado Rules require such actions. Often, best practices and safest courses involve more than just complying with the Rules. In practice, compliance with the Rules can and should avoid a finding of discipline in response to a grievance or a finding of liability in response to a malpractice claim. However, because most claims and grievances are meritless, effective risk management in the modern law practice involves much more. Hence, best practices and safer courses of action do more; they help prevent and more quickly defeat meritless claims and grievances. Other than billing, there is virtually nothing that attorneys dread more than addressing potential conflicts of interest. After all, resolving conflicts issues requires and attorney to focus on why not to take on a new representation rather than how to get the business in the door. However, unidentified or unresolved conflict issues cost lawyers more—in both clients and money—than most attorrneys realize.


Legal publications are replete with articles about motions to disqualify, disciplinary cases, and legal malpractice claims based on an unidentified or unresolved conflict of interest. Even when successfully defended, conflict-based allegations cost lawyers time and money. When lawyers lose, the risks are serious. The attorney could be disqualified from representing the client, face discipline for violating the Rules of Professional Conduct, receive an unfavorable jury verdict, or be forced to pay punitive damages based on a finding of disloyalty. The Office of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge (PDJ) takes conflicts of interest violations very seriously.[1]

In addition, judges and juries may well disregard defenses to claims (such as the protections of independent professional judgment or “trial tactics”) based on a breach of the lawyer’s fundamental fiduciary duty of loyalty to the client. Unfortunately, in today’s fast-paced world, the path of least resistance when a new client walks in the door is to get started on the case without performing even a rudimentary conflicts check. When it comes to conflicts, however, haste really does make waste.

Rule 1: Identify Conflicts Before Representation

Conflicts do not get better with time and cannot simply be undone. Once a conflict-laden representation begins, one cannot simply give back the confidences and secrets and forget it ever happened. When the attorney–client relationship attaches under a cloud of a potential or actual conflict of interest, there is no going back to the way things were before. For this reason, the attorney must identify and resolve conflicts of interest before the attorney–client relationship begins. It is one of those areas where an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound (if not a ton) of cure.

Rule 2: Grant No Exceptions

With conflicts, systems aimed at 100% compliance are critical. Inevitably, it is that one representation that escaped the system that creates the most problems. Typically, the reasons for operating outside the conflicts process for one representation (the client is too important, the case is too complicated, the attorney is too rushed) are the same reasons the conflict analysis was so important for that representation. Hence, the single most important part of conflicts analysis is compliance without exception.

The challenge, then, is to address conflicts as painlessly as possible. The easier and faster the system is, the more likely it will be that every lawyer will “run conflicts” on every representation.

One last point on the “no exceptions” rule bears emphasis. Every new representation—even if it does not involve a new client—should be screened for conflicts. Conflicts screening should be done each time a new party becomes involved as a plaintiff, defendant, lender, buyer, or seller. Also note that, although computers make conflicts screening much easier, they are no substitute in the final conflicts analysis for involving lawyers in the process. Effective conflicts procedures involve both.

Spotting Actual and Potential Conflicts

Attorneys in Colorado must comply with Rules 1.7 and 1.8 of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct, which govern conflicts. There are two kinds of conflicts: actual conflicts and potential conflicts. The distinctions between each are worth noting.

Actual Conflicts

An actual conflict means that the conflict cannot be waived by disclosure or consent; the attorney simply cannot accept the representation. One type of actual conflict is direct adversity, which occurs when the needs of one client are directly adverse to the needs of another client. For example, a law firm cannot represent both a plaintiff and a defendant in the same lawsuit (although it has been tried). Effective conflicts systems identify direct adversity conflicts and make it impossible to open a matter when they arise.

Potential Conflicts

A potential conflict means that there is some issue that must be addressed before a lawyer can accept the representation. Typically, the issue is some form of consent or waiver from either the new client, another client, or a former client.

There are two types of potential conflicts: successive representations and multiple representations. Although they are different, the waiver is largely the same—full disclosure and consent. In both situations, the attorney must provide full disclosure to all of their clients and obtain their written consent before taking on the representation.

Successive representation. Successive representation conflict rules involve potential conflicts between a current (or prospective) client and a former client. Under the conflict rules, a lawyer cannot represent a new client in a matter substantially related to the representation of a former client without the former client’s consent after full disclosure.

Although there are many cases defining “substantially related,” the essence is whether the lawyer learned (or could have learned) confidential information from the old client that could be used in the new representation for the new client. If the answer is no—the lawyer did not and could not have learned confidences and secrets that could now be used—then the lawyer should be able to accept the new representation. If the answer is yes (and lawyers should assume the answer is yes when in doubt), then the lawyer should provide full disclosure to the former client and acquire his or her consent in writing before taking on the new representation.

Multiple representation. Multiple representation conflict rules involve potential conflicts arising out of the representation of more than one client. Many lawyers overcomplicate the analysis; it is actually pretty straightforward. If there is more than one client, then the multiple representation rules should be applied.

In most situations, the potential conflict is easy to spot—there is more than one client listed on the new matter form, so the rules have to be applied. However, sometimes the conflict is not so apparent. These situations can arise out of probate litigation (representing the executor, estate, and heirs); securities litigation (representing both the corporation and the directors/officers); domestic litigation (representing the parents and the children); and bankruptcies (representing multiple creditors).

Whenever there is more than one client, the lawyer should ask (1) Are there things I might do differently if I represented only one of the clients? and (2) Could changes down the road create adversity between the clients? If the answer to both questions is no, then there may be no conflict. Depending on the circumstances, the attorney may be able to accept the representation without further investigation. If the answer to either question is yes, then there is a potential conflict that requires a more thorough analysis. This analysis involves determining whether the lawyer can adequately represent the interests of all of the clients. If the answer to this question is no, then there is an actual conflict.

A simple way to establish whether there is an actual conflict is to determine if the clients’ interests are linked in any way. In a contested divorce proceeding, for example, no lawyer could advance one spouse’s interests without impacting the interests of the other spouse. Therefore, the representation of a wife and husband in a contested divorce proceeding is not permissible with or without consent.

Conclusion

Conflicts do not have to be complicated. They just require practice discipline and proper analysis. Before the representation begins, get the names and run the conflicts. Adopt the mantra “Just Do It!”


Note

[1] See People v. Layton, No. 13PDJ036 (PDJ Sept. 25, 2013) (suspending an attorney in part due to violation of Colo. RPC 1.8(e), which prohibits an attorney from providing financial assistance to a client involved in pending litigation).

Randy Evans is an author, litigator, columnist and expert in the areas of professional liability, insurance, commercial litigation, entertainment, ethics, and lawyer’s law. He has authored and co-authored eight books, including: The Lawyer’s Handbook; Georgia Legal Malpractice Law; Climate Change And Insurance; Georgia Property and Liability Insurance Law; Appraisal In Property Damage Insurance Disputes; and California Legal Malpractice Law. He writes newspaper columns (the Atlanta Business Chronicle, the Recorder, and the Daily Report) and lectures around the world. He served as counsel to the Speakers of the 104th – 109th Congresses of the United States. He co-chairs the Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission. He serves on the Board of Governors of the State Bar of Georgia. He handles complex litigation throughout the world. He has been consistently rated as one of the Best Lawyers in America, Super Lawyer (District of Columbia and Georgia), Georgia’s Most Influential Attorneys, and Georgia’s Top Lawyers for Legal Leaders. Along with numerous other awards he has been named the “Complex Litigation Attorney of the Year in Georgia” by Corporate International Magazine, and Lawyer of the Year for Legal Malpractice Defense in Atlanta. He is AV rated by Martindale Hubble.

Shari Klevens is a partner in the Atlanta and Washington, D.C. offices of McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP. Shari represents lawyers and law firms in the defense of legal malpractice claims and advises and counsels lawyers concerning allegations of malpractice, ethical violations, and breaches of duty. In addition, Shari is the Chair of the McKenna’s Law Firm Defense and Risk Management Practice and is a frequent writer and lecturer on issues related to legal malpractice and ethics. Shari co-authored Georgia Legal Malpractice Law and California Legal Malpractice Law, which address the intricacies and nuances of Legal Malpractice law and issues that confront the new millennium lawyer. She also co-authored The Lawyer’s Handbook: Ethics Compliance and Claim Avoidance, which is an easy-to-use desk reference offering practical solutions to real problems in the modern law practice for every attorney throughout the United States.

Lino Lipinsky de Orlov is a litigation partner in the Denver office of McKenna Long & Aldridge, LLP.  He represents clients in all aspects of commercial litigation, mediation, arbitration, and appeals.  He has developed particular experience in complex business cases, particularly those involving creditor’s rights, real estate, trade secrets, and employment disputes.  Mr. Lipinsky also frequently speaks and writes on legal issues relating to technology, employment law, and ethics.   He is a member of the Colorado Bar Association’s Board of Governors and serves on the Board of the Colorado Judicial Institute.  He is a former President of the Faculty of Federal Advocates.  Among his honors, Chambers USA has recognized Mr. Lipinsky as one of Colorado’s leading general commercial litigators, and he has been included in The Best Lawyers in America.  He received his A.B. degree, magna cum laude, from Brown University and his J.D. degree from New York University School of Law, where he was a member of the New York University Law Review.

 

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

The Colorado Lawyer: Screen Clients First—Avoid Problems Later

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. Reprinted with permission.

By J. Randolph Evans, Shari L. Klevens, and Lino S. LipinskyEvans-Klevens-Lipinsky


Authors’ Note
Readers’ comments and feedback on this series of “WhoopsLegal Practice Malpractice Prevention” articles are welcomed and appreciated. References in the articles to “safest courses to proceed,” “safest course,” or “best practices” are not intended to suggest that the Colorado Rules require such actions. Often, best practices and safest courses involve more than just complying with the Rules. In practice, compliance with the Rules can and should avoid a finding of discipline in response to a grievance or a finding of liability in response to a malpractice claim. However, because most claims and grievances are meritless, effective risk management in the modern law practice involves much more. Hence, best practices and safer courses of action do more; they help prevent and more quickly defeat meritless claims and grievances. Other than billing, there is virtually nothing that attorneys dread more than addressing potential conflicts of interest. After all, resolving conflicts issues requires and attorney to focus on why not to take on a new representation rather than how to get the business in the door. However, unidentified or unresolved conflict issues cost lawyers more—in both clients and money—than most attorneys realize.


For many attorneys in today’s difficult economic world, screening clients seems like a far-fetched concept, akin to telling a starving man to watch what he eats. Many firms are just glad to have clients; screening the few they have appears to be the least of the firm’s worries.

However, according to the data, problem clients are often worse than no clients at all. Clients who pay fees, but who also bring legal malpractice claims, only hurt—not help—the attorney and can result in a large net loss for the firm. The challenge comes in screening out the problem clients during the intake process.

Screening clients has a different meaning depending on the size, type, and location of a law practice. For solo practitioners, it will mean identifying the risk factors for new clients (preferably through use of a checklist) and then balancing the risks against the potential rewards of the representation. For smaller and mid-size firms, screening involves identifying standard practices and procedures suitable for the needs and expertise of the law practice, and ensuring that all of the lawyers in the practice consistently follow those rules. For larger firms, effective screening includes systems to ensure consistent compliance with the firm’s policies.

Every representation, whether for a paying client or for a pro bono client, requires that the attorney exercise good judgment about acceptance of the new client; and because it involves judgment, there is no formula for every decision regarding whether to accept a new client. However, there are some practices and procedures attorneys can implement when creating checklists and developing systems for screening prospective new clients.

Developing a Screening Method

Some indicators for problem clients seem obvious. Others are the product of data about legal malpractice claims and the risks of the modern-day law practice. The most important part of client screening is to adopt and follow a set of standard practices and procedures, including referring to a screening checklist, that apply to every new client and matter.

1. Ask the right questions.

Common sense goes a long way in detecting and avoiding problem clients. For example, one of the most telling questions to ask a new client is: “How many attorneys have previously represented you in this matter?” If the answer to that question is “seven,” the attorney will want to think long and hard about becoming the eighth. Clients who have been unhappy enough to hire and fire seven attorneys are unlikely to be happy with the eighth. Of greater concern is that, if their case or transaction does not go well in their eyes, they just might hire a ninth to sue the eighth for malpractice.

The lawyer should ask prospective clients other common-sense questions. For example: How many times have you been a party to litigation? Potential clients who have been parties to several prior cases should raise red flags. This is especially true for potential clients who have made a career of suing other people. Eventually, these serial plaintiffs make their way to also suing their attorney.

The realities of the proposed representation are also relevant when deciding to take on a new client. In making this assessment, consider when the work must get done. This involves calculating the first deadline for the new matter. Representations often do not end well if they begin on the eve of (1) the expiration of the statute of limitations for a plaintiff’s claim; (2) a scheduled closing for completion of a transaction or deal; or (3) any other imminent deadline. Unrealistic deadlines are red flags for a new representation.

Sometimes, there are good reasons a client reaches out to an attorney to undertake a representation on the eve of a pressing deadline. However, they are sometimes the same reasons an attorney should have second thoughts about accepting the representation. It could be that an earlier attorney fired the client because the client did not pay, or there could be insurmountable problems that have left the client desperate for immediate representation. Whatever the reason, the most significant questions attorneys should ask are: (1) When is the earliest deadline? and (2) Why is the client just now reaching out? The answers to these questions are important in deciding whether to accept the representation.

Another good question to ask is whether the prospective client can afford to pay the attorney fees associated with the representation. If there is no realistic chance of getting paid and the attorney takes the case anyway, the attorney assumes the risks of liability with no opportunity for compensation. This is a lose–lose proposition. Thus, a prospective client’s ability to pay is an important pre-representation topic that attorneys should candidly address.

Other things to consider when screening prospective clients include (1) possible conflicts with other clients; (2) whether the attorney has the expertise required to effectively handle all of the client’s issues; and (3) the role the client expects the attorney to play in the context of the client’s overall situation. These determinations are of particular concern, because they relate to an attorney’s ethical obligations toward the client.

For example, the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct (Rules or Colo. RPC) require an attorney to avoid conflicts with current and past clients or, alternatively, to take special care when entering into an engagement that could create potential conflicts.[1] The Rules also address attorney competence, requiring that an attorney has the “legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”[2] Additionally, the Rules allow an attorney to limit the scope of representation at the outset of an engagement, if reasonable.[3] Thorough screening may reveal whether limiting the scope of representation from the outset is a prudent option under the circumstances, as opposed to declining the engagement, based on the client’s stated objectives. If the attorney has captured in writing the scope of the mutually agreed representation at the beginning of the engagement, that attorney will be in a far better position should the client later challenge the attorney on this front.

Certain types of engagements may be permitted under the Rules, but not under the Standards of Professional Conduct of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. Attorneys should be aware that the U.S. District Court has declined to adopt the state’s “unbundling” rule, Colo. RPC 1.2(c), which allows the provision of limited representation to pro se parties, as described in Colo. RPC 11(b) and Rule 311(b) of the County Court Rules of Civil Procedure.[4] For example, in state court matters, an attorney may provide assistance to a pro se litigant without entering an appearance. The same attorney, however, is prohibited from “ghost writing” a pro se party’s filings in federal court. The attorney should turn away a potential client who is seeking the type of behind-the-scenes assistance that the U.S. District Court does not permit.

On October 10, 2014, the U.S. District Court promulgated proposed amendments to its local rules that include an opt-out from comment 14 to Colo. RPC 1.2(d). The comment, which the Colorado Supreme Court adopted on March 24, 2014, states that a Colorado attorney may counsel clients “regarding the validity, scope, and meaning” of the medical marijuana and recreational marijuana provisions of the state constitution, and “may assist a client in conduct that the lawyer reasonably believes is permitted by these constitutional provisions” and the laws implementing them, as long as the attorney also “advise[s] the client regarding related federal law and policy.” If the District of Colorado ultimately decides not to adopt comment 14, attorneys admitted to practice in that court would need to carefully consider whether they could accept engagements involving advice regarding the state’s marijuana laws.

In sum, thorough screening provides a double benefit to the prudent attorney. It decreases the attorney’s exposure to malpractice suits and fulfills several ethical obligations.

2. Consider what’s expected.

An attorney should inquire about the prospective client’s expectations—of both the representation and the attorney. Some clients simply expect their attorney to achieve a successful result on their behalf, without consideration as to how that end is achieved. These attorney-client relationships rarely end well. A candid conversation about what is possible, along with a description of what the attorney can and cannot do, is an important part of the screening process. If there are things the prospective client expects that the attorney is unable or unwilling to do, the attorney should decline the representation.

One other thing to watch for is a client who is “too good to be true.” Often, these are the same clients who expect an attorney to bend (or ignore) the rules. Their stories are full of contradictions, and they expect results regardless of means. Avoid the temptation of agreeing to represent them without conducting a thorough investigation; these may turn out to be problem clients, too.

3. Conduct some background research.

The Internet provides attorneys cost-effective tools for conducting fast preliminary background research on prospective clients. The research might turn up little, or it might disclose a prospective client with a history of problems that often extend to anyone and everyone around the client. Credit checks (with the consent of the prospective client) could reflect someone who either cannot or does not pay. A simple litigation search might reflect a prospective client who has sued his or her attorney before. These possible clients require a long look before an attorney would agree to the representation.

4. Create a client-screening system.

Inevitably, the client who creates the most problems is the one who escaped the screening filters. Effective systems make it next to impossible for potential problem clients to slip through the cracks. This means that a file cannot be opened or a matter billed unless the screening questions have been asked and the data collected. Hence, the certainty of the system is as important as the content of the screening itself.

NOTES

[1] See Colo. RPC 1.7 and 1.8. Comment 3 to Rule 1.7, which addresses conflicts with current clients, states, in part, “[a] conflict of interest may exist before representation is undertaken, in which event the representation must be declined, unless the lawyer obtains the informed written consent of each client . . .” under the conditions provided in the rule.

[2] See Colo. RPC 1.1.

[3] Colo. RPC 1.2, cmts. 6 and 7.

[4] See D.C.Colo.L.Atty.R. 2(b)(1).

 

Randy Evans is an author, litigator, columnist and expert in the areas of professional liability, insurance, commercial litigation, entertainment, ethics, and lawyer’s law. He has authored and co-authored eight books, including: The Lawyer’s Handbook; Georgia Legal Malpractice Law; Climate Change And Insurance; Georgia Property and Liability Insurance Law; Appraisal In Property Damage Insurance Disputes; and California Legal Malpractice Law. He writes newspaper columns (the Atlanta Business Chronicle, the Recorder, and the Daily Report) and lectures around the world. He served as counsel to the Speakers of the 104th – 109th Congresses of the United States. He co-chairs the Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission. He serves on the Board of Governors of the State Bar of Georgia. He handles complex litigation throughout the world. He has been consistently rated as one of the Best Lawyers in America, Super Lawyer (District of Columbia and Georgia), Georgia’s Most Influential Attorneys, and Georgia’s Top Lawyers for Legal Leaders. Along with numerous other awards he has been named the “Complex Litigation Attorney of the Year in Georgia” by Corporate International Magazine, and Lawyer of the Year for Legal Malpractice Defense in Atlanta. He is AV rated by Martindale Hubble.

Shari Klevens is a partner in the Atlanta and Washington, D.C. offices of McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP. Shari represents lawyers and law firms in the defense of legal malpractice claims and advises and counsels lawyers concerning allegations of malpractice, ethical violations, and breaches of duty. In addition, Shari is the Chair of the McKenna’s Law Firm Defense and Risk Management Practice and is a frequent writer and lecturer on issues related to legal malpractice and ethics. Shari co-authored Georgia Legal Malpractice Law and California Legal Malpractice Law, which address the intricacies and nuances of Legal Malpractice law and issues that confront the new millennium lawyer. She also co-authored The Lawyer’s Handbook: Ethics Compliance and Claim Avoidance, which is an easy-to-use desk reference offering practical solutions to real problems in the modern law practice for every attorney throughout the United States.

Lino Lipinsky de Orlov is a litigation partner in the Denver office of McKenna Long & Aldridge, LLP.  He represents clients in all aspects of commercial litigation, mediation, arbitration, and appeals.  He has developed particular experience in complex business cases, particularly those involving creditor’s rights, real estate, trade secrets, and employment disputes.  Mr. Lipinsky also frequently speaks and writes on legal issues relating to technology, employment law, and ethics.   He is a member of the Colorado Bar Association’s Board of Governors and serves on the Board of the Colorado Judicial Institute.  He is a former President of the Faculty of Federal Advocates.  Among his honors, Chambers USA has recognized Mr. Lipinsky as one of Colorado’s leading general commercial litigators, and he has been included in The Best Lawyers in America.  He received his A.B. degree, magna cum laude, from Brown University and his J.D. degree from New York University School of Law, where he was a member of the New York University Law Review.

 

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

Nominations Now Being Accepted for Denver Business Journal’s Outstanding Women in Business Award

The Denver Business Journal is seeking nominations for its 2015 Outstanding Women in Business special section. Nominations can be in multiple categories, such as law, government and nonprofits, small and large business owner, lifetime achievement award, and Mile High leaders. Nominees will be evaluated on innovation, entrepreneurship, professional accomplishment, and community leadership.

The special section will run August 21, 2015, and women selected as Outstanding Women in Business will also be honored at an awards event. Nominations must be submitted via the Denver Business Journal’s online form and must be received no later than 5 p.m. on Friday, April 24, 2015.

For more information about eligibility requirements and the nomination process, click here.

ALPS 411: I Believe First Impressions Matter. Do You?

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on the ALPS 411 blog on January 13, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Mark3By Mark Bassingthwaighte

Like you, I’ve been a consumer for years and the older I get the more I’ve come to recognize the impact of first impressions. They really do matter. I can only speak for me, but these days if I am forced to interact with a pushy sales person when first entering a store, I often leave and rarely return. If I’m shopping online and a website fails to load properly because it’s outdated or it’s simply hard to navigate, I’m gone. If a grocery store is unclean, I will walk out and shop elsewhere. Heck, everyone knows that you can judge the quality of the food an unfamiliar restaurant serves by the number and types of vehicles in the parking lot, don’t they? First impressions matter and I don’t think I’m alone in believing this. If you agree, I would ask if you’ve taken steps to set the right impression at your own firm because it’s certainly going to be easier to establish and maintain an effective and trusting attorney client relationship if a potential new client’s first impression is a positive one.

Consider this. I have walked into more than a firm or two for the first time where I was placed in an unkempt reception area or an absolutely cluttered and dirty conference room featuring broken furniture. Some of these spaces looked more like old storage rooms than the client areas that they were. I have also been kept waiting for 30 to 60 minutes past my appointment time without explanation and on several occasions even forgotten about entirely. I have been the recipient of cold greetings by staff and treated by reception as if I was a bother. Such experiences can’t help but result in setting an impression. That’s normal. Now put yourself in my shoes. What might your response to any of the above experiences have been? If your own clients were to have a similar experience, what might their response be? I can share my initial response was to begin to question the business and even legal acumen of the attorneys who practiced there. Certainly my initial opinions were open to being changed, but it was now going to be an uphill climb.

First impressions are made at first contact, be it calling for an appointment, looking you up on the Internet, or walking through your front door. They are often set before you even have a chance to meet with a prospective new client. It’s all about presentation and experience. Is there a welcoming greeting? Is the space tidy and inviting? Is your website user friendly and functional on multiple platforms to include mobile devices? With all this in mind, I offer the following as ideas to help get you started in thinking about what you can do to try and make certain the right impression is set at first contact.

  • Train staff to greet every individual as soon as possible, certainly within a minute of their entering the office, and remember that even a sales representative who is turned away today may be a prospective client tomorrow. If your receptionist happens to be helping someone else, have them give a simple “Hello, I will be with you in a moment” in order to acknowledge the individual’s presence.
  • Never allow confidential or personal conversations to be overheard by others, particularly in the reception area. If conversations from an employee break area, a conference room, or attorney offices can be heard in reception consider some type of sound proofing. Periodically remind staff and attorneys that confidential or personal matters should never be discussed within earshot of any visitors. In fact, give staff permission to briefly interrupt a client meeting to perhaps shut a door if voices can be overheard in reception or by visitors elsewhere in the office.
  • Do not allow visitors to view computer screens. The receptionist’s computer screen will often have confidential information on it and thus should never be visible to anyone coming into the office.
  • Occasionally check the waiting area during the day. This is an especially good customer service technique. If anyone sitting there seems bored or frustrated and have been in the reception area less than ten minutes, there’s a problem. The space should be designed to make the wait as pleasant as possible. Remember they don’t like having to wait for you any more than you would like having to wait for them if you were in their office. You might even go sit in your own reception area for 10 or 15 minutes just to see how it feels. For example, does the reading material provided fit the clientele? While Scientific American is probably a great choice for an intellectual property practice, it won’t win any points from clients in a family law practice. If families use your waiting area, make sure there are materials suitable for children. All magazines and newspapers should be current as opposed to displaying outdated ones that have a home address label still attached.
  • Keep the reception area clean and orderly because an unkempt reception area is too easily seen as a reflection of the quality of service offered by the firm. Before the attorney-client relationship has even started, a potential new client may already begin to question whether the attorney has enough time to appropriately deal with their matter simply because it appears the attorney already doesn’t have enough time to pick up the place.
  • In a similar vein, do not minimize the importance of appropriate attire. Staff and attorneys alike need to dress the part whenever meeting potential new clients. This isn’t to suggest that casual Fridays and the like are inappropriate. Just be mindful that people will make initial judgments about someone they are meeting for the first time based upon overall appearance. I can share that I have actually walked into a law firm where I was given a nod by the receptionist who was dressed down, reading a romance novel, and chewing gum with her feet on the desk. Suffice it to say, my initial thought was I would never hire anyone in this firm because tolerance for the sloppy appearance suggests a tolerance for sloppy work. The message was they didn’t care.
  • Client information and documents must be kept confidential at all times. If client file material needs to be in the reception area in order for the receptionist to do his work, make sure that wandering eyes can never land on those materials. Never leave client file material, mail, or anything else that might identify a client on the counter or privacy wall around the reception desk.
  • Try to prevent anyone from having to wait longer than ten minutes. Most people are willing to be reasonable and wait a short amount of time for the right lawyer; but don’t expect them to wait as long for their lawyer as they might for their doctor. While medical emergencies do arise, lawyers can rarely claim a legal emergency. If prospective clients are waiting too long, consider altering your scheduling procedures. If a delay is unavoidable, have staff inform them of the delay as quickly as possible and discuss options. Some will wait and others will need to reschedule.
  • Be mindful of the difficulties the receptionist faces when assigned phone answering duties. Confidentiality can easily be breached in a law office when someone in the reception area overhears a phone conversation or a client name.  The receptionist should have a way of notifying attorneys that someone has arrived or that a client is on the phone without being forced to breach client confidentiality. Statements like “Your two o’clock appointment is here” or “you have a call on line one” as opposed to “John Smith is here and he wants to talk with you about getting a divorce” should be acceptable when necessary. Viable alternatives might include the use of privacy glass, email notifications of a waiting call, or the moving of phone answering responsibilities away from the reception area.
  • If your space permits, have visitor areas and work areas separated by a wall or partition. One never knows what impression potential new clients may have when they observe people working. Some may feel they are seeing energetic and busy staff members and take that as a positive sign while others may feel the staff is overworked or unprofessional and conclude the opposite. A wall with a tasteful picture or two is worth the investment. In fact, some firms place all conference room areas near reception and away from work areas for this very reason.
  • Finally, don’t overlook your Web presence. A poorly designed website, a website that doesn’t display properly on a mobile device, or a website that isn’t kept current can send a message about your competency and priorities as well. After all, who wants their lawyer to be someone who appears to think halfway is good enough or perhaps got started on something and then neglected to follow through?

As I shared above, all of this is about presentation and experience. At first contact if your presentation is poor and/or the experience of any potential client is bad, then you’re going to start off on the wrong foot if they even decide to let you get started at all. Do first impressions matter? You bet they do.

Mark Bassingthwaighte, Esq. has been a Risk Manager with ALPS, an attorney’s professional liability insurance carrier, since 1998. In his tenure with the company, Mr. Bassingthwaighte has conducted over 1100 law firm risk management assessment visits, presented numerous continuing legal education seminars throughout the United States, and written extensively on risk management and technology.  Mr. Bassingthwaighte received his J.D. from Drake University Law School and his undergraduate degree from Gettysburg College.

Contact Information:
Mark Bassingthwaighte, Esq.
ALPS Property & Casualty Insurance Company
Risk Manager
PO Box 9169 | Missoula, Montana 59807
(T) 406.728.3113 | (Toll Free) 800.367.2577 | (F) 406.728.7416
mbass@alpsnet.com | www.alpsnet.com

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

Colorado Supreme Court Reverses Years of Precedent in Softrock and Western Logistics

It is advantageous to employers to retain the services of independent contractors when possible. Contractors are not required to be covered by workers’ compensation insurance and employers need not pay unemployment tax out of the contractors’ wages. However, classifying workers as contractors has its risks; after an audit, the employer may be found liable for back taxes on workers who are found to be employees rather than contractors.

That is precisely what happened to Carpet Exchange in 1993, when the Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Carpet Exchange of Denver v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office, 859 P.2d 278 (Colo. App. 1993). The court of appeals analyzed C.R.S. § 8-70-115(1)(b) and, after applying the factors, decided that the workers in question were employees rather than contractors because they were not “customarily engaged in an independent trade, occupation, profession, or business related to the service performed.” Since then, courts have relied on this one-factor test to determine whether long-term workers are employees or contractors.

Industrial Claim Appeals Office v. Softrock Geological Services, 2014 CO 30 (Colo. May 12, 2014), reversed that precedent. In Softrock, the Colorado Supreme Court rejected the outside employment test as dispositive of whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor, ruling instead that the totality of the circumstances must be considered and no single factor can be dispositive in deciding whether an individual is customarily engaged in an independent business or trade.

Michael Santo, lead counsel in Softrock, will present a lunchtime program on Friday, August 22, 2014 at the CLE offices to discuss Softrock‘s impact on employment law. Santo will also discuss Western Logistics, Inc. v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office, 2014 CO 31 (Colo. May 12, 2014), a related opinion that the supreme court delivered the same day as Softrock. Employment attorneys, business attorneys, and in-house counsel should attend this informative lunchtime program.

CLE Program: Independent Contractor or Employee? Softrock‘s and Western Logistics‘ Effect

This CLE presentation will take place on August 22, 2014. Click here to register for the live program and click here to register for the webcast. You can also register by phone at (303) 860-0608.

Can’t make the live program? Order the homestudy here — MP3 audio downloadVideo OnDemand