Law Firm Ethics Counsel Provide Risk Management Tips

Risk ManagementDuring the July 31, 2015, semi-annual meeting of the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers in Chicago, a panel of APRL attorneys who serve as their law firm’s internal ethics counsel discussed some of the common dilemmas and issue they face in their daily practice of representing their law firm client.

The issues addressed during this sesssion of the APRL meeting included guidance concerning intake procedures for filtering out potential problem clients before they become firm clients. Some law firms, for example, conduct credit checks and Internet searches to weed out prospective clients who may pose future conflicts.

Another issue addressed by the APRL meeting panel included challenges posed by lateral hires, including screening for conflicts of interest as well as ensuring that laterals moving from another state are authorized to practice law in any new jurisdiction.

The risk management panel also addressed their practices for educating firm lawyers about ethics, including individual counseling as well as the importance of providing firm-wide ethics training.

Also discussed were practical problems law firm risk management counsel face when trying to get engagement letters—either because the client does not want to sign one or the lawyer who brought in the matter does not want to ask for one.

For a comprehensive discussion about the risk management panel discussion during the APRL meeting, click on the article authored by Helen W. Gunnarsson, entitled Ethics Counsels Divulge Risk Management Tips (Aug. 12, 2015), published in the ABA BNA Lawyers’ Manual on Professional Conduct.

The Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers is the largest organization of lawyers primarily representing other lawyers in disciplinary proceedings.  Although APRL was originally formed over two decades ago primarily as an association of lawyers who represent other lawyers in disciplinary proceedings, its membership has diversified.

With over 500 members world wide, APRL membership now encompasses lawyers who provide services in all aspects of legal ethics and professional responsibility. In addition to respondents’ counsel work, APRL lawyers also represent and advise lawyers and law firms on ethics and professional responsibility, risk management, legal malpractice, and the law of lawyering.

Classroom asking questionsHaving had the pleasure of speaking at the July 31 Chicago meeting, I can echo from personal experience what APRL says on its website: “APRL and its members are passionate about professional responsibility and together they share their experiences, insights and expertise.”  One takeaway I had from attending my first meeting –APRL members are certainly not shy about asking questions!

3 thoughts on “Law Firm Ethics Counsel Provide Risk Management Tips”

  1. It is interesting that some clients would become a problem to the entire firm. I have never thought about this, but after your thorough explanation, it makes sense that it would be in everyone’s best interest to filter out some clients. Meetings like this are essential to ensure that everyone is able to be spoken for. Thank you for a detailed article and for your helpful information!

    1. Michael E. McCabe, Jr.

      Natalie: Thank you for your comment. In my experience, the real issue is who is one of management — who, exactly, is going to take charge of the project of either vetting out undesirable clients before they become clients, or determining that an existing client poses a long-term business risk to the firm such that they should be jettisoned into former clients. In the nether world of patent and TM post-issuance services, like paying maintenance fees or providing reminders, a single-matter client may remain a “current” client for many years, which poses a heightened risk for a conflict of interest when another client wishes to hire the law firm to take an adverse position against the “client” whose only business with the firm is for post-issuance formalities. Big problem.

  2. I didn’t realize that the APRL has over 500 members worldwide, and that they also represent and advise law firms on ethics, risk management, and so forth. If I was starting up a company, I think that I would want to work with patent law firms to help with obtaining permits. By working with a firm that also works with the APRL, I think that would be an incredible asset to a startup company.

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