By Leah Weaver
In its young life, this blog has offered good advice on a wide variety of topics, including networking, cover letter writing, marketing, billing, and finding balance. There is one area, though, that hasn’t yet been discussed, which is as important to your career as any of those other topics (if not more so): the rules of professional conduct. So I sat down recently with Siama Chaudhary, assistant director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, to discuss how young attorneys run afoul of the rules, and some tips to avoid doing so.
Chaudhary said that the most common complaints the office receives have to do with violations of Rules 1.3 and 1.4 – diligence and communication. This is true not just for newer attorneys, but across the board. In the case of solo and small firm practitioners, she said, this is often due to attorneys taking every client that comes their way. Maintaining a reasonable caseload is one way to ensure you have enough time for your clients and pursuing their cases.
Trust accounts are another tricky area for new attorneys. “It’s not easy to navigate trust accounts,” Chaudhary acknowledged. Keeping proper books and records, knowing what has to be placed in trust, and knowing when the funds are earned, can be challenging for new attorneys. After all, none of us went to law school because of our accounting acumen! But trust accounts are no small matter: the OLPR is notified of all overdrafts on attorney trust accounts, and Chaudhary said the quickest route to disbarment is stealing client funds.
Communicating with represented parties is a rule violation the OLPR has been seeing more often recently. Presumably we all know that we cannot communicate directly with a represented party without that party’s attorney’s permission. Did you know that it’s also a rule violation to send someone else to do so on your behalf?
If this seems like a minefield, don’t worry! You’re not alone. Chaudhary offered the following tips for anyone with a question about the rules of professional conduct:
- Read the rules. For instance, Appendix 1 to the rules has a list of required trust account and business records that an attorney or law firm must keep.
- Visit the OLPR website. There you can find the most recent version of the rules, LPRB opinions, and articles on topics such as trust accounts and cross-border practice.
- Attend a CLE. In addition to the annual professional responsibility seminar, the OLPR holds CLEs across the state. Check your local bar association CLE listings.
- Get an advisory opinion. Licensed Minnesota attorneys and judges can request an advisory opinion from the OLPR, either online or by phone (651-296-3952 or toll-free 1-800-657-3601). There are some limitations on this service, but it can be a great resource when you’re uncertain about which way to go.
In a future post, I’ll discuss what happens if, despite your best efforts, a complaint is filed against you with the OLPR. But for now, read the rules and take advantage of the resources the OLPR offers. And if all else fails and a complaint is filed against you, you’re at least in good company. (It happened to me!)