Category: Uncategorized

Uncategorized

Just Say, “No.”

image   by Sheila Blackford   ©2015   One of the most important things you may need to tell your existing and potential clients is, “no.” When to say no can be difficult for some lawyers to determine. With memories of the 2008 economic climate and awareness of overhead, many lawyers struggle with turning away business. If there is a person with a problem, the lawyer says yes quickly without consideration of anything but the lawyer’s need for revenue or gratitude. If the scenario sounds familiar, consider for a minute, that you may be turning away a malpractice claim or an ethics complaint. Then saying no isn’t so hard, is it?

Lawyers have a duty of competence. If you aren’t competent, then you are supposed to get competent or associate with someone who is competent. You may find yourself in a situation where neither seems to be an option. I talked with a lawyer who was relatively young in law practice experience and did not have the level of experience, knowledge, or adequate capital to handle a medical malpractice case. A pro bono one! Happily, the lawyer was able to say no and get the case off to someone with the current skills and resources to help.

Lawyers have a duty to communicate with their clients. Sometimes, what needs to be communicated isn’t good news, such as communicating that upon review you have discovered that the case has no merit and not a chance of prevailing at court. One lawyer found this out after saying yes and engaging in a lot of puffery about being able to get the client money. Understandably, the lawyer was reluctant to say, no. No case. No ethical way to pursue this. That was a hard no. Likely, the lawyer toned down enthusiasm with the next potential case until investigating the facts revealed worth pursuing.

Lawyers have a duty to safeguard client property. Some clients  push for their check to be cut now. But if the funds for the client are not actually in the trust account, because the issuing bank of the check has not transmitted funds to the Lawyer Trust Account, then there are no client funds to be disbursed yet. You otherwise are robbing Peter to pay Paul. Best to say, no, the funds are not yet available and they will be disbursed to the client just as soon as they are available.

Lawyers have a duty to not take on a case, or if engaged to withdraw from representing a client, if the lawyer’s physical or mental condition materially impairs the lawyer’s ability to represent the client. What if the lawyer has represented the client for a long time and the client wants the lawyer to continue to finish up the matter? What if the lawyer cannot see or even concentrate because of the pain of treatment for terminal cancer? What if the lawyer has been admitted to a drug and alcohol treatment facility for detoxing or in a lock down for mental illness? The client may want the lawyer to continue but if the lawyer’s physical or mental condition render the lawyer incapacitated, then the lawyer must say no, not now. Hopefully the lawyer’s cell phone has been collected at the hospital door, but I have heard of clients calling and calling and calling, despite being told that the law office is temporarily closed.

What about those clients who are friends? How easy it is to get into a situation where you continue to do legal work for free because it is your friend. Some lawyers get themselves too busy helping friends, and friends of friends, with myriad legal matters that are beyond the lawyer’s ability to properly attend to with the competence and diligence required. You don’t get a pass on ethics violations or acts of malpractice just because it is a friend who is not paying for legal services. You undertake providing legal services, you need to provide the services ethically and without committing malpractice.

Comment 5 to ABA Model Rule 1.4 (Communication) states “…The guiding principle is  that the lawyer should fulfill reasonable client expectations for information consistent with the duty to act in the client’s best interests, and the client’s overall requirements as to the character of representation.” Make sure your clients are being given reasonable expectations. Hold the client’s best interest foremost in mind and you will do the right thing, even if the right thing is to say, “no.”

Uncategorized

Lawyers in Distress

image   by Sheila Blackford   ©2015

The practice of law can be very stressful, and for lawyers who suffer from depression, it can be deadly.

Oregon like many states across the nation has lost a number of good attorneys to suicide. The Oregon State Bar Bulletin February/March 2015 issue had an excellent article, “From Stigma to Safety Net Attorney Suicides Initiate Nationwide Conversation About Mental Health and Prevention,” by Melody Finnemore. In it, she states that depression often takes root during law school. As a former high school and middle school teacher, I can say that it takes root far sooner than law school.

What pushes people? For some, there is an inner hole that cannot be filled. No acquisition, no achievement is good enough to take away the pain of not being enough. Some turn to self medicating with alcohol and drugs. But sooner or later, without some intervention by mental health care professionals, including drug and alcohol counselors, something terrible is going to happen.

What can we do? We can pay better attention to our colleagues – and to our families and friends. Put down the iPhone and iPad and look at the person while listening. We each give a great gift when we are truly present to others. If you need to shore up these skills, consider mindfulness meditation training. You will notice a difference in your relationship. If being heard is becoming a rarity in your office and home, do some mindful listening, which is listening without waiting for the pauses to interject your agenda or well-intentioned advice. There is time for both later. First, just listen.

Are there signs to watch for that may signal trouble? There are resources available nationally and locally. The article mentioned above has a helpful sidebar, “Signs to Look for Ways to Help.”  The American Association of Suicidology has an entire page devoted to warning signs and a mnemonic IS PATH WARM? Ideation; Substance Abuse; Purposelessness; Anxiety; Trapped; Hopelessness; Withdrawal; Anger; Recklessness; Mood Changes.

Here in Oregon, we are fortunate to have the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program (OAAP) with four caring attorney counselors, Shari Gregory, Kyra Hazilla, Mike Long, and Doug Querin. If you are struggling or concerned that someone you care about is struggling, their services are confidential and free. It doesn’t get much better than that! Nationally, the American Bar Association has the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (COLAP)where you can find resources and links to programs available in other states and provinces.

And how about yourself? Are you headed for becoming a lawyer in distress? You can and should Knock Out Burnout!   You and your friends and family will be glad that you did!

BillingClient relationsFinancial ManagementLaw Practice ManagementUncategorized

More About Money: “Don’t Just Ignore the Bills!”

image  by Sheila Blackford   ©2014   I hear solos talking about the client who isn’t paying. Now usually this is a client who fell further and further behind on paying legal bills. Sometimes there was an initial retainer but that is usually long exhausted. The client is now ignoring your bills!

Assuming you feel you cannot “fire this client” for not paying you, I want to you if you have talked to your client about his or her client matter. Did you discuss a realistic appraisal of how long their case would be and how much it might cost based upon what your estimated fees and costs would be?

Communication about the likely expense of legal services is essential before setting forth on a client matter. But you may be saying, “it’s a little late now!” Not so. Sit down and review this client’s bills sent and not paid. How much is owing for how long? How much more fees and costs are likely to be be incurred? Does the client wish to pursue? Can you put your client onto a regular payment plan— such as $50 on the first and $50 on the fifteenth of the month. That is only $100 per month spread over the client’s two paychecks. Can you partially forgive the debt if the client can pay 50%-75% of what is owed to bring it current? Is this a client you are willing and able to help on a pro bono or partial pro bono basis? Can the client borrow money from a relative?

You may decide to do something yourself instead of ignoring your bills. Consider whether you can go forward in this representation. On the PLF website (www.osbplf.org) you’ll find an article, “How to Fire a Client.” See the practice aids and forms category on Disengagement Letters for the article and some sample disengagement letters. You will also see a sample agreement for charging a credit card which can be used for setting up a recurring charge to the client’s credit card in the category on fee agreements and engagement letters, “Fee Agreements: Authorization to Charge Credit Card.”

It is always wise to pick up the phone to check in with you client. If you feel uncomfortable, write out this telephone script and use some variation of it to get this situation resolved. At 45 days past the statement date, call your client and say, “Hello [CLIENT]. I just wanted to know if you got my monthly statement for [MONTH]? Is there some problem with the bill that is preventing you from paying it?” Then discuss your withdrawal, or offer a monthly payment plan or negotiate a settlement of whatever amount is past due. Remember the Oregon State Bar offers arbitration services for fee disputes. The important thing is not to ignore this situation.

GeneralTechnologyUncategorized

Rumpelstiltskin! What is the darn password again!

 

JEL23652-Blackford, Sheila P3 (2)    by Sheila Blackford  ©2013   Believe it or not, the most common password is the word password. Before feeling smug about that unique password you created, think about how many sites where you have used it. Fess up; you are not alone. The aggravation of forgetting a password has led many people to use one password everywhere. The danger is that if a hacker comes upon your password and a list of your accounts, the hacker can try to enter these other accounts with the password already known. How could this happen? I will share my own experience about when my personal gmail account was hacked.

I must fess up: I used one password on all non-financial related sites. The Gmail Hacker got into my gmail account, looked around in my in box and pulled up my Facebook account email. How did I find out? The Gmail Hacker began getting emails sent to my gmail address. Discovering what had happened, I changed my gmail password to a unique strong password then tried to deal with Facebook. I contacted Facebook to report I had been hacked and wanted to insure that the Gmail Hacker would be shut down out of my Facebook account. I also changed my Facebook password to be another unique strong password. To my aggravation, I periodically get emails from Facebook addressed to the Gmail Hacker asking to return to Facebook. I delete these emails, uttering a curse upon Facebook for ignoring my report of being hacked by this person(s). My hacker did not go by the name Gmail Hacker but I do not want to add to his/her hacking ego by repeating it.

So lesson learned. Use a strong password, strong because it’s length and complexity render it difficult to breech. Many sites now have a password strength meter to check how strong this password choice is compared to safety guidelines. Current security standards show that a safe password should be a minimum 16 characters long made up of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Your safest course of action is to use a password generator otherwise human nature resorts to a pattern that a hacker could figure out. Randomness and unpredictability are qualities that will keep your password safe(r).

Jotting your list of passwords on a post it and and sticking it on your computer monitor is not a good practice at the office or even at home. There are a number of good password keeper programs or apps that are very helpful. Be sure to create a long, complex, random and unique password to access your password keeper. Google password keeper and you’ll see there are password keeper apps for iPhones, iPads, android devices, web-based, or downloadable to your laptop or desktop. Some you might want to check out include Password Keeper (www.password-keeper.net), KeePass Password Safe (www.keepass.info.com), RoboForm (www.roboform.com), LastPass (www.lastpass.com) and eWallet (www.illiumsoftware.com/eWallet/). Whichever password keeper you use, keep it safe with its own unique password.  Now get busy changing all those unsafe passwords!