Essential Legal Tips to Know Before You Hire a Lawyer

Hiring an attorney is a critical decision when your life, reputation, freedom, or financial security are on the line. The process of hiring the right professional is straightforward. You’ll research lawyers, have an initial consultation to evaluate their expertise, and work out the fee structure. However, there are several other nuances of getting legal representation. Read ahead for some of the essential legal tips to keep in mind before hiring a suitable attorney. 

The Lawyer Should Suit Your Requirements

The most crucial factor to consider is the state where the lawyer is licensed to practice. You’ll need a professional familiar with the workings of the judicial system and courts where your case will be heard. Further, attorneys specialize in different fields like, for instance, corporate law, family law, criminal defense, and divorce, among others. You must hire a firm knowledgeable about your particular situation. If you’re facing criminal charges, a Smith Kendall Lawyer will be more competent to help you than a professional trained in drawing up employment contracts. The third critical factor is the fee. Make sure to get an estimate of the cost and other charges before finalizing an agreement. Chances are that the fee structure may not fit in with your budgetary needs. 

You Must Communicate the Urgency of the Matter

When you initially contact the attorney, communicate the urgency of the matter. For instance, if you’re facing criminal charges or you’re the defendant in a lawsuit, you’ll need representation right away. Then again, if you’re the victim of a personal injury and deserve compensation, contact an attorney and talk about getting damages at the earliest. Waiting too long might result in the statutory time frame expiring, lowering your chances of winning damages. Entrepreneurs starting a new venture should also contact the right lawyers for advice on how to stay compliant with legal regulations like acquiring insurances, licensing, and permits.

You Must Discuss the Possible Outcomes at the Onset

Even the best of lawyers cannot accurately predict the outcome of a legal case. When discussing the aspects and facts of the situation, talk about your expectations and the results you’re looking for. The professional will devise a strategy and plan arguments and evidence to resolve the case in your favor. You might also want to talk about the second-best outcome and the solutions you absolutely cannot agree to. Be upfront about the minimum settlement you’ll agree to and the time frame within which you need the legal matter resolved. Your lawyer will also need to know if you’re open to disrupting your life and taking time off work to attend hearings. 

Remember that Legal Battles Cost Money

Whether you’re the plaintiff or defendant, fighting legal battles can cost you in terms of money and time, not to mention an emotional toll. While entering into a flat fee is advisable, your lawyer could be unwilling to commit to a fixed cost because of the nature of your case. In that situation, make sure to provide every last detail and information you have so that the attorney can build a robust strategy. Providing the wrong documents could result in further complications. You’ll also carefully save all the paperwork and communication related to the case. Avoid changing lawyers because that could add to the final cost. As for as possible, assist the attorney by pitching in to cut back on the legwork and time. 

Hiring suitable legal representation is essential to ensure you get the best outcomes from the case. Take your time understanding the different aspects of the case before finalizing the best professional.

Looking For A Lawyer? Here’s How To Hire The Right One

Selecting The Right Lawyer Can Have A Positive Impact On All Your Legal Issues.

When you face a problem that needs special attention, it is only natural that you will want to hire the best professional to help you deal with it. That is the same case when you are looking for a lawyer. However, with so many licensed lawyers, when you face a legal problem, it would be exhausting to select the right one. It can be a time-consuming process but surely an important one. First, you can get a list of potential lawyers by talking to your friends or people from your industry and even looking up online for the same. Once you have this list ready, you can contact them and interview each of them to find one that you can trust. Below are steps that you need to take to ensure that you are hiring the right lawyer. 

Understand Your Legal Problem

To be able to hire a professional, you will first need to understand the problem that you are facing. Every lawyer has different specialisations. Before you select one to represent you, you need to understand what kind of lawyer is suited for the problem at hand. Once you understand that, then you can seek a Legal Expert to help you solve the issue. Lawyers who specialise in solving the type of problem you are facing will know the latest law developments in that field along with the legal nuances that need to be taken into consideration. They will give you that extra attention that your case needed, which could make a marginal difference to your case. 

Look For An Attorney With Experience

The level of experience that a lawyer has is another critical criterion you need to take into consideration. A lawyer who has a good record of success with similar cases like yours can be helpful. This record of success will increase the chances of the lawyer being able to win your case. The lawyer’s experience here is dependent on various factors like the length of their service, the number of cases that they have dealt with that is similar to yours, and their geographical location. You can also review the website of the lawyer’s firms to get a better insight into how other like-minded people felt about the service they received. 

Communication Skills Of The Lawyer

The lawyer is someone who will communicate with the adversaries and those people who are a part of your case. Therefore, just how their communication should be effective in such a scenario, the same should be when they are dealing with you. Look for a lawyer with whom you can easily and effectively communicate; a lawyer should be proactive and abreast of the development of your case and should not wait for you to ask questions but rather ask them first. They should be able to help you understand the situation in an organised manner and reach out to you when necessary. You should be in the loop at all times, yet they should be professional enough not to over-communicate. 

The Lawyer’s Approach Towards A Legal Matter

All lawyers have their own style and approach to represent their clients. Apart from them being professional at all times, they should also match your personal style and approach. You should be comfortable with the lawyers as you will have to trust them with sensitive information that can impact your case. If the lawyer is too harsh or judgemental and doesn’t work for you, you should refrain from hiring them. 

Find A Lawyer Who Is Familiar With Your Region

Depending on your case, you should look for a lawyer who is familiar with your region. For example, cases related to real estate, medical malpractice, and workers’ compensation can be handled by a local lawyer. However, matters related to federal law will need the assistance of a national specialist to get the best results out of it. You can easily search on the internet for lawyers from different states. If you have a case in another state in which you don’t live, then it is advised to hire a lawyer from that state as they will be able to handle the matter more proactively. They can easily communicate with you over email. 

Apart from the above steps, you should always consider your budget and if the potential lawyer is someone you can afford to hire. Always ask for all the fees and other payments in advance, so there are no further surprises down the road. A written contract and billing agreement must be put in place before you finalize and engage a lawyer to represent you.

What Not to Do When Hiring a Lawyer

Couple meeting with financial advisor

From filing for bankruptcy to managing estate planning to negotiating a divorce, there are plenty of situations when it makes sense to hire an attorney. A good lawyer can help you protect your assets and offer sound advice for complicated legal matters thanks to extensive expertise in a specific practice area, such as employment, personal injury or family law.

[Read: 5 Estate Planning Strategies to Keep Your Money in the Family.]

However, hiring top-notch legal representation without breaking the bank can seem like an elusive task. What’s more, if you retain an attorney that makes an error or causes a contract to be amended, you could wind up spending even more money in the long run.

So, if you’re planning on hiring an attorney in the near future, heed the guidance of these lawyers and sidestep these common pitfalls.

Don’t be bashful about discussing legal fees. Before you hire a lawyer, it’s important to not only ask about how much your attorney will cost you during the period you will be retaining him or her, but also when the payment is expected, says Jeremy Rovinsky, a dean and general counsel at National Paralegal College, an online paralegal college headquartered in Phoenix.

“Many people don’t realize how quickly attorney fees can add up. Clear communication and pointed questions upfront can paint a much clearer picture – and sometimes, you can even negotiate how much a lawyer will charge for your case or per hour,” Rovinsky says.

You also want to understand exactly how your lawyer bills you: by the hour or as a flat fee? And if your lawyer charges clients by the case, such as for an uncontested divorce or simple bankruptcy filing, ask if that is an estimated price or if could you be billed more if the case takes longer to complete than the attorney expected. If your attorney bills you by the hour, you’ll also want to aim to keep your conversations short and to the point. In other words, don’t make a lot of small talk about the weather, or call your lawyer numerous times just to check in or spend 20 minutes telling your divorce attorney what a terrible spouse you had. Instead, vent about that to a friend who doesn’t charge you by the hour.

Do not fight with your lawyer. “If you find yourself butting heads with your lawyer, you are asking for trouble,” Rovinsky says. “You have to be on the same page in order to strategically navigate your case.” He likens staying coordinated with your attorney to baseball. “If the pitcher and the catcher aren’t on the same page, they are going to have problems when the other team gets up to bat,” he says.

Sandra Bowen, a divorce and family law attorney at the law firm Bowen Ten Cardani PC in Richmond, Virginia, echoes Rovinsky’s point.

Listen carefully to your attorney’s advice Bowen says, emphasizing that you’re paying for their expertise. She also suggests that you don’t get your legal information from the internet, family and friends – and then tell a lawyer that he or she is doing the job wrong. “Divorce laws and procedures vary from state to state,” she says.

If you think your attorney is doing a subpar job, you can always find another one. But keep in mind, if you’re constantly bickering with your attorney and offering him or her unsolicited advice, your lawyer is a trained in a specific area of expertise, and you, presumably, are not. Bowen also cautions clients against trashing the legal system or bad-mouthing the court and expecting the attorney to agree.

“I am governed by legal ethics and cannot speak badly about a judge,” Bowen says.

[Read: The Pros and Cons of Prenups.]

Do not discuss your case with others. Take caution before talking about your case with loved ones. Bowen sees this a lot in divorce cases, where clients tend to talk a little too freely to others. She stresses that sharing what your lawyer is telling you could backfire on you if, say, your spouse’s attorney hears about these conversations.

“Don’t talk to your friends, neighbors, family members, your soon-to-be ex-spouse and their family about your case, my advice to you and my legal strategy,” Bowen says. “It is a big mistake to telegraph to the other side what we are going to do in case and our objectives.”

Do not neglect to do some of the administrative work yourself. Are there certain papers your lawyer needs for your case? Can you get them easily to your attorney, rather than have him or her call an office and request them? You might save money if you do some of the administrative work on your own, such as gathering estate planning information or your debts for a bankruptcy, rather than passing it onto your lawyer, suggests Nance Schick, an attorney whose New York City-based practice, The Law Studio of Nance L. Schick, specializes in private conflict resolution.

“Don’t be the equivalent of the client who shows up in an accountant’s office the day before the tax-filing deadline and dumps a box of receipts on the desk. The more organized and prepared you are, the less you will have to pay someone else for these services,” Schick says.

Find an attorney who is relevant to your case. People often hire lawyers who they’ve used before, rather than seeking out an attorney that has a practice and expertise in a certain legal area, according to Lisa Witt, a criminal defense attorney who has her own practice in Mesa, Arizona. That is fine if you have, say, a business lawyer who you like and continually use for business law matters. However, it may not be a wise idea if you’re calling up the attorney who handled your divorce to ask him or her to protect you in a complicated liability lawsuit, where somebody is trying to take everything you have. You can look at the American Bar Association’s website, which has a lawyer referral directory, for qualified legal help. You may also want to solicit referrals from other attorneys you trust or from your friends, relatives, neighbors or business associates.

“The No. 1 mistake people make is hiring an attorney who only dabbles in the relevant field of law,” Witt says. “For example, a person who needs a criminal defense attorney should not hire a general practitioner who has handled a few criminal cases.”

If you’re still unconvinced that hiring a lawyer with the right background is essential, consider the assets you’re trying to protect, whether it’s future income or keeping the family breadwinner from going to jail, and imagine what it would be like to lose your case.

As Witt puts it, “For a defendant, that could mean the difference between freedom and prison.”

What Makes a Good Lawyer? Common Traits of Successful Attorneys Today

In a difficult, confusing, or complicated situation, individuals and companies may find themselves desperately seeking the guidance of a well-prepared and reliable legal professional. A great attorney has the potential to have a dramatic and positive impact on the life of a client. Whether it’s by helping them through a difficult family law matter, protecting them against false charges, or securing fair financial compensation after an accident, attorneys advocate for people during some of the most challenging times in their life. Lawyers matter.

But what makes a good lawyer? It’s not an easy job, and not everyone is cut out for it. The American Bar Foundation (ABF) found that approximately a quarter of lawyers leave the profession within the first seven years. A legal degree can also be applied to a multitude of professional environments and careers. But for anyone that wants to know how to find a good lawyer or how to be a good lawyer it’s crucial to consider the key factors that make today’s attorneys successful. Below are ten traits that are common to the best lawyers in the United States.

Passion for the Job

As a starting point, successful lawyers almost always have a true passion for their job. You have probably heard popular cliches like “choose a job you love and you will never work a day in your life”. Of course, we all know that in the real world it’s not quite that simple. At the same time, there is a wide body of scientific evidence that demonstrates the importance of passion for your work. Some have an already developed enthusiasm for lifelong learning, but as noted by Deloitte, one of the keys to talent development is cultivating worker passion. In other words, people who are passionate about what they are doing are happier, more fulfilled, and they perform better. If you have a passion for serving people and an interest in the law, you should consider applying for admission into law school.

Compassion for Clients

Without compassion for their clients, a lawyer will never reach their true professional potential. The top legal minds in the field almost invariably highlight compassion and service when they offer advice to law students and aspiring lawyers. For example, as reported by the Columbia Daily Spectator, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told law students that they should try to use their degree to “make things a little better for other people”. A lawyer who is committed to representing and helping their clients is likely to find meaning and success in their professional life.

Great Communication Skills

On a fundamental level, attorneys are communicators. They communicate with their clients, they communicate with other parties to the case, and they communicate with the court. Beyond that, lawyers communicate in a wide range of different ways. A great lawyer knows how to get important ideas across in formal legal writing, in informal emails, in phone conversations, through discussions in official legal settings, and in private conversations. Law students and aspiring lawyers should never miss an opportunity to sharpen their communication skills. It’s not just about the law, it’s also about the business. As noted by the American Bar Association (ABA), the average American law firm spends a considerable amount of time attracting and retaining clients. Lawyers need to know how to network with potential clients and how to demonstrate their professional capabilities in consultations with prospective clients. Remember, the greatest legal mind in the world will not be able to use their skills until they get hired.

Willingness to Listen

One of the most underrated traits shared by almost every successful attorney is a strong ability and willingness to listen. Although strong listening is a part of overall communication skills, it’s important to highlight listening as its own professional trait. Effective communication is a two-way street. Too many people fail to put in the time and energy to fully understand and comprehend what the other party is saying. When you truly open up your ears, you will probably recognize that people are giving you even more information that you thought. Listening to your clients, listening to witnesses, listening to your opposing counsel, and listening to the court can be the difference between winning and losing a case. Great lawyers take in all relevant information, analyze it, and create a plan of action.

Knowledge of the Law

Imagine that you were hurt in a truck accident on a local highway. You would probably want to turn to an experienced personal injury lawyer. If you’re considering starting a company and want guidance on corporate formation, you will undoubtedly want to find an experienced business attorney. While successful lawyers share many common traits, they may rely on a distinct body of law. The legal knowledge needed to be an effective corporate litigator is far different than the legal knowledge needed to help a California couple pursue a private adoption. Great lawyers know their area of practice. Some of this knowledge comes from experience. Some of it comes from education. If you are currently pursuing your legal education, you will want to find the right law school classes that will be the most useful for you in your future practice.

Strong Writing Ability

One of the single defining traits that all successful attorneys share is excellent writing skills. Don’t be fooled by the flashy procedurals that are ever popular on television, the vast majority of lawyers spend far more time writing than they do in oral arguments. Successful lawyers must be able to prepare effective, clear, and well-reasoned legal documents. If you want to take action now that will help you become a better lawyer in the future, focus on sharpening your writing skills. An attorney who can tell a compelling story that weaves in all of the relevant facts and arguments is an attorney that will be successful for a long time.

Creativity

When you think about the job of an attorney, creativity may not be the first trait that comes to your mind. However, contrary to the popular conceptions of most people, successful attorneys are often highly creative people. The law is not purely a science. There is an art to effective legal practice. Remember, each client that an attorney deals with will have their own unique set of goals, objectives, and concerns. In some cases, ‘outside-the-box’ thinking can help craft a solution that the client may never even realize was possible. Successful lawyers know how to tailor their creativity to suit every situation. All cases should be approached with an open mind.

Good Judgment

At times, lawyers are required to make judgements — both for themselves and for their clients. For instance, a lawyer may have to decide whether a legal claim is worth pursuing at all. Alternatively, an attorney may be involved deep in settlement negotiations and their client may ask them for their opinion on a proposed deal. To be clear, the client is ultimately responsible for making a choice, but it’s the lawyer’s job to make sure that the client knows and understands all relevant information so that they can make an informed decision. An attorney who lacks good judgement is an attorney who will not last very long in the field.

A Healthy Skepticism

Every successful attorney maintains a healthy skepticism. This does not mean that you need to be a pessimist or a negative person, but it does mean that you need to be aware of the fact that what you are being told might not represent the full story. Many experienced lawyers have stories about mistakes they made when they were just starting out in the field. A common error that almost every seasoned lawyer has made at least once involves believing someone without getting proper verification. In too many cases, clients and witnesses will leave out important details. As a result, the attorney is set up for an unfortunate surprise down the road. Successful attorneys always maintain that healthy skepticism. If something sounds ‘wrong’ or ‘off’, they take the time to verify the information.

Perseverance

Finally, successful lawyers know how to persevere. The law is a tough field. There is no reason to sugar coat it; practicing law can be one of the most rewarding and meaningful careers out there, but it’s also a lot of work. As is true with any profession, success requires effort. There will be difficult days. You may be stuck dealing with a client who is making your life unnecessarily hard, an opposing counsel who is being rude for no reason, or a judge who rules the wrong way on a key procedural matter. You may simply be frustrated because you spilled hot coffee on your shirt that morning. It happens. What sets successful attorneys apart from ordinary attorneys is that they know how to persevere through the challenging times to get to the rewarding and meaningful moments that make it all worth it.

5 Signs of a Good Lawyer

With so many lawyers and firms in the world today, how do you know if you’ve chosen the right one? Here are 5 signs of a trustworthy lawyer.

1. Cautiously Optimistic

Most cases aren’t slam-dunks, and it is important that your lawyer doesn’t make promises regarding the outcome of your case and should not be overconfident no matter how seasoned he or she is. A great lawyer knows there are many factors to be considered and that no legal proceedings come with guarantees and should present a few options for handling the case.

2. Great Listener

A great lawyer is an even better listener. Nothing in the legal world has a cookie-cutter approach. They should understand your goals. Not only are they good at listening, but great lawyers are also responsive. This doesn’t mean they respond to you within seconds, but rather they are considerate of your time and will respond in a timely manner.

3. Objective

As strange as this may sound, your lawyer shouldn’t empathize too much with your pain. A good legal service provider is able to stay objective and seek the truth at all costs. Your lawyer should pursue a professional relationship that’s based on trust and facts (good AND bad).

4. Honest About Fees Upfront

Though sometimes a sore subject, it is crucial that your lawyer talks about fees upfront. Certain types of representation have flat fees: immigration matters, basic bankruptcy, administrative law, etc. However, most types of legal matters have varying fees, and a good lawyer will give you a range. This is because matters could be more complex and because it is impossible to predict how the other side will react or respond.

5. Trust Your Gut

Last but not definitely not least, you should enjoy working with your lawyer. Your lawyer should treat you and all other parties with respect, even the opposing lawyer. A great lawyer keeps you updated on all progress and should communicate with you frequently. If you get a weird feeling about a lawyer you’ve consulted with, check for reviews on sites such as

4. Honest About Fees Upfront

Though sometimes a sore subject, it is crucial that your lawyer talks about fees upfront. Certain types of representation have flat fees: immigration matters, basic bankruptcy, administrative law, etc. However, most types of legal matters have varying fees, and a good lawyer will give you a range. This is because matters could be more complex and because it is impossible to predict how the other side will react or respond.

5. Trust Your Gut

Last but not definitely not least, you should enjoy working with your lawyer. Your lawyer should treat you and all other parties with respect, even the opposing lawyer. A great lawyer keeps you updated on all progress and should communicate with you frequently. If you get a weird feeling about a lawyer you’ve consulted with, check for reviews on sites such as smithkendalllaw.com. If you still aren’t sure, trust your gut!

Need legal advice? Contact one of our lawyers today or leave a comment below!

MARKETING GUIDE FOR LAWYERS: 7 TIPS AND TRICKS FOR LAW FIRM MARKETING

In today’s competitive market, law firms need to constantly be evolving their marketing strategies if they want to continue to land new business and grow revenues. Gone are the days when superior legal skills and word of mouth were enough to keep clients happy and drum up new business. Clients expect innovation and technological advancement, which applies not only to practicing law but to marketing efforts as well. The following marketing guide for lawyers will help you make sure your law firm is on the right track to reaching new clients and growing your business.

1. Build a Brand

A good marketing strategy involves creating a solid brand for your law firm. Branding is about more than just coming up with an eye-catching logo and official business cards and letterhead. It’s about developing a strong message that you want to convey to your clients and potential clients. What image do you want to portray, and why should clients choose your law firm over another? Branding is about figuring out what your firm does better than the others and what makes you unique. Once you figure out your brand, you can incorporate it into all your other marketing efforts to make them more successful.

2. Make Sure You Have a Strong and User-Friendly Website

Today, a good website is the best way to reach clients. If you don’t already have one, now’s the time to build one. Even if you do have a website, you should take a close look to make sure it’s doing what you need it to do for your law firm. Your website should be clean and easy to navigate, clearly conveying your brand and ways for potential clients to get in touch with you. In addition to a clear mission statement, you should consider having specialized web pages for every service you offer. If you’re not tech- or design-savvy, you should hire an experienced web designer to help you build a website that will wow your customers. After all, your website is your 24/7 presence and a way to give your clients information even when you’re not available.

3. Create Original Content

While having good website copy is important, you need to be trying to reach a broader audience. You need to show your clients and potential clients that you’re up on current developments and are always honing your expertise in the areas you practice. The best way to do that is to regularly be creating original content to offer insights to your clients. This should include both blog posts on your website and more in-depth articles in relevant publications. If like many lawyers, you’re too busy to create content yourself, you should partner with a vendor who can handle content creation for you. The important thing is that you’re getting your name out there and demonstrating your expertise.

4. Get to Know SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of using certain targeted keywords and strategies to get your firm ranked higher in internet search results. SEO comes into play in your website copy and the other content you create. When potential clients run a web search for lawyers in your practice area or information on one of your specialties, you want your law firm to appear within the first few search hits, not on the fifth page of Google results. SEO is important and requires a fair amount of thought and strategy. This is another place you can partner with an expert vendor if you’re not getting the results you want on your own.

5. Embrace Social Media

In 2019, social media is much more than a place to share viral cat videos or clever memes. Social media is a valuable and necessary marketing tool for any business, and law firms are no exception. There are several social media platforms to choose from these days, and no firm should try to master them all. Pick a few that you think your clients are most likely to use, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, and make a point of regularly posting content on them to get your name out there.

6. Capitalize on Good Reviews

Like any other business, law firms benefit greatly from positive reviews on sites like Google, Yelp, or LinkedIn. Good reviews from current and past clients are one of the best ways to convince new clients to use your services. Don’t be afraid to directly solicit positive reviews from your current clients. Not only does it help you grow your business with new customers, but the feedback will also help you ensure that you’re offering the best services possible. You should also include some of these positive testimonials on your website.

7. Monitor your Marketing Efforts

A marketing strategy is only helpful if you know it’s effective. That’s why it’s important to rely on tracking, reporting, and analytics tools to see how much traction you’re getting on your website and your various social media posts and articles. You should figure out what exactly you’re trying to accomplish with your marketing strategy and establish key performance indicators (KPIs) that you want to meet. If you’re falling short of your KPIs, you need to develop a plan to adjust your marketing strategy accordingly.

Having the right marketing strategy is key to retaining clients and attracting new business. The marketing guide for lawyers outlined above is a great way to get started. At any step of the way, you should consider partnering with legal marketing experts to make sure you’re getting the most out of your law firm marketing strategy.

16 Lawyers Share Their Best Law Firm Marketing Tips

So you need to get more clients for your law firm. You’ve heard online marketing works, but you’re not sure where to start. Between Google, Facebook, PPC, SEO, and online reviews, there’s a lot to consider—and there are plenty of consultants who will claim that their solution is best.

How do you know what law firm marketing tactics will work for you? How do you know what to invest in and what to ignore?

We’ve published several tips from individual law firms here, and we hope you find them useful.

1. Take advantage of free law firm marketing options

“I think you should maximize your free marketing opportunities before spending a lot of money on marketing. For example, claiming your listings, getting a 10.0 Avvo rating, etc.”

– Heather Meglino, Managing Partner and Owner at Meglino Morse Law

2. Position yourself as a thought leader

“For us, (and I work in digital marketing as well as law) it’s all about internal and external SEO, and inbound marketing. The content (whether it’s videos on your site, monthly newsletters, etc.) will depend on your ideal/target clients. Setting yourself up as a subject matter expert through inbound is the most cost-effective lead generation tool out there!”

– Mandy Woodland, Owner at Mandy Woodland Law, PLC Inc.

3. Create educational content and promote it in the right places

“For our law firm, we have found that we gain the most traction through writing timely educational articles about estate planning-related issues. While we post these articles to our firm’s website and social media sites, we have found the most immediate results from posting to LinkedIn.”

– Matthew J. Tuller, Principal Attorney and Owner at the Law Office of Matthew J. Tuller

4. Build meaningful relationships with clients

“We are located in a very small, conservative resort town. Business is still based on relationships—who you know and how you are perceived as contributing to the community. A website is essential for credibility and general info, but networking and relationships are key.

It will be interesting to see how this changes as the current face-to-face generation phases out and the face-to-phone generation phases in.”

– Karen Klukiewicz, COO at Patrick Neale & Associates

5. Focus on securing referrals

“I have a referral-based practice. It’s important that my website be modern, clean, and work on both desktop and mobile.”

– Danielle Huntley, Principal at Huntley Inc.

“We do a lot of cross referrals and have a very strong referral network. We also blog, speak at symposiums, teach, and are regular guests on talk radio.”

– Leslie Lelii, Office Manager at Virtus Law, PLLC

6. Take steps to multiply your referrals

“[T]ry to categorize the best groups your referrals come from and hone in on them. Develop relationships with your referral sources. Reach out, thank them, recognize their contributions. The referrals will not only keep coming, but will multiply.”

– Sean Robichaud, Lead Counsel at Robichaud’s

7. Don’t underestimate the power of word-of-mouth

“The best marketing is word-of-mouth. I still get about half of my clients from word-of-mouth. Past clients are the best source of getting new clients!”

– Jonathan G. Stein, owner, Law Offices of Jonathan G. Stein

8. Prioritize online reviews

“Our paid and free profiles on Avvo actually seem to be the best return on investment, combined with the intense level of effort that we have put into building our website and newsletters into a real library of resources for people who are trying to learn more about estate planning. SEO of our website and making sure the many, many, many directories that are out there have accurate listings for us seem to be the next most useful steps.

We have been blessed with a ton of great reviews, and I hear all the time that the reviews were one reason even people who were actually referred by another client or a professional adviser made their appointments.”

– Loraine DiSalvo, Partner at Morgan & DiSalvo, P.C.

“My free profile with Avvo has … been a truly great marketing tool. I have received so many inquiries for legal help and many have become clients. I also utilize a strong referral network, and I am very involved in my state and local bar associations as well as the ABA where I have speaking opportunities. I’m still working on my website.”

– Kari Petrasek, Attorney at Petrasek Law, PLLC

9. Claim your presence online, but also focus on your community

“I do everything I can to claim my online presence with websites, directories, and assorted profiles. I do get several calls from having a good Avvo profile and a premium (paid) profile.

Otherwise, I pay little for advertising. We instead cultivate a good reputation in the community by sponsoring/supporting community events and organizations, personally networking within the community, and sending care packages to referral sources and others who seek to help us. We try to be very genuine in our approach and it has always worked for us.”

– Ruth Goldner, Attorney & Counselor at Goldner Deeg PLLC

10. Build a quality website that convinces visitors to choose you

“I’ve found that the best leads come straight from my website. People Google “Kingston criminal defence lawyer” and I come up in the top three results. I think I have a good website compared to the other people who also come up on the first page and it draws people in to contact me. By this time they’ve already checked me out and, I think, like what they’ve seen. I’ve found these clients are easy to land, even on the first phone call, with no follow up.

I’ve found that referrals from lead generating sites are less committed. They’re often shopping around or are just looking for free legal advice, it seems.”

– Simon Borys, Principal lawyer at Simon Borys

11. Invest in SEO …

“For online marketing there are two primary principles: Have a valuable website, and create valuable content. If you demonstrate your value instead of describing it, potential clients will flock to you.

At our firm, Palace Law, we have taken steps to build our internal SEO and external SEO. We have videos on our website introducing who we are and offering free information to potential clients. The latter (often called freemium services) is one of the most important things lawyers can do. Offer up valuable information to potential clients for free, form contracts, legal research, and instructional videos, and you’ll find that this not only increases your SEO, but also draws in a lot of clients. We also advertise and maintain profiles on paid and free sites.

– Jordan Couch, Attorney at Palace Law

12. … But know that it’s a long game

“I like SEO marketing, in that it helps keep you top of mind for people for when they need you, but I find the issue with that is timing.

People only retain a lawyer when they need a lawyer. [Legal services are] not an impulse buy item. So unless your SEO marketing is catching [potential clients] just when they need you, it doesn’t seem to generate a lot of immediate, direct ROI.

I think when people need a lawyer, they either think of you because you’re top of mind because of your previous SEO marketing, or they just Google you, which is why I think my website is the best tool.”

– Simon Borys, Principal lawyer at Simon Borys

13. Target local prospects with digital ad campaigns

“Our firm is currently running a Google Ad campaign for our surrounding counties—any time someone performs a Google search for family law attorneys in our county, they see our website. It has produced a huge surge in new client intakes.”

– Ebony Anderson, Paralegal at McCabe Russell

14. Try QR codes

“One fun thing we have had success with is running traditional print ads with scannable QR Codes [that lead] to our website … After each of our ads, we always seem to get business through the QR link.”

– Seth Kruse, Associate Attorney at Kasper & Associates, PLLC

15. Get onto social media

“Social media marketing is the future for lawyers. Most people perform research on their smartphones. I get one to two significant cases per year from paid marketing efforts on Facebook for a minimal investment.”

– Barry Walker, Managing Partner at Walker Law

16. Consider your practice area

“[Questions about marketing strategy] really can’t be answered meaningfully without knowing what areas you practice in, and without thinking about how your clients find lawyers. My practice is limited to representing other lawyers—90% or more of my business comes from referrals. A good website, occasional blogging, some Twitter use—these may be helpful, but you still need to differentiate yourself from all the other lawyers buying Adwords, sending out email newsletters, etc. What works for a lawyer in one practice area may not work for someone with a different practice.”

– Eric Cooperstein, Attorney at the Law Office of Eric T. Cooperstein, PLLC

When it comes to law firm marketing, find what works for you

Investing in marketing can get your law firm plenty of new clients—but it needs to be done right. Consider your practice area and your clients, and what works best for them (and you) before spending your time and money on any law firm marketing efforts.

To conclude, here are a few overarching themes from everyone’s advice above:

  • Invest in your online presence. A well-designed website and strong online reviews can help potential clients find you and choose to hire you.
  • Invest in SEO. Investing in SEO for your law firm website can do a lot to help people find you.
  • Build your referral networks. Build relationships with your referral sources, and be active in your community to help gain more referrals.

Model Rules of Professional Conduct: Preamble & Scope

PREAMBLE:  A LAWYER’S RESPONSIBILITIES

[1] A lawyer, as a member of the legal profession, is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.

[2] As a representative of clients, a lawyer performs various functions. As advisor, a lawyer provides a client with an informed understanding of the client’s legal rights and obligations and explains their practical implications. As advocate, a lawyer zealously asserts the client’s position under the rules of the adversary system. As negotiator, a lawyer seeks a result advantageous to the client but consistent with requirements of honest dealings with others. As an evaluator, a lawyer acts by examining a client’s legal affairs and reporting about them to the client or to others.

[3] In addition to these representational functions, a lawyer may serve as a third-party neutral, a nonrepresentational role helping the parties to resolve a dispute or other matter. Some of these Rules apply directly to lawyers who are or have served as third-party neutrals. See, e.g., Rules 1.12 and 2.4. In addition, there are Rules that apply to lawyers who are not active in the practice of law or to practicing lawyers even when they are acting in a nonprofessional capacity. For example, a lawyer who commits fraud in the conduct of a business is subject to discipline for engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation. See Rule 8.4.

[4] In all professional functions a lawyer should be competent, prompt and diligent. A lawyer should maintain communication with a client concerning the representation. A lawyer should keep in confidence information relating to representation of a client except so far as disclosure is required or permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.

[5] A lawyer’s conduct should conform to the requirements of the law, both in professional service to clients and in the lawyer’s business and personal affairs. A lawyer should use the law’s procedures only for legitimate purposes and not to harass or intimidate others. A lawyer should demonstrate respect for the legal system and for those who serve it, including judges, other lawyers and public officials. While it is a lawyer’s duty, when necessary, to challenge the rectitude of official action, it is also a lawyer’s duty to uphold legal process.

[6] As a public citizen, a lawyer should seek improvement of the law, access to the legal system, the administration of justice and the quality of service rendered by the legal profession. As a member of a learned profession, a lawyer should cultivate knowledge of the law beyond its use for clients, employ that knowledge in reform of the law and work to strengthen legal education. In addition, a lawyer should further the public’s understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system because legal institutions in a constitutional democracy depend on popular participation and support to maintain their authority. A lawyer should be mindful of deficiencies in the administration of justice and of the fact that the poor, and sometimes persons who are not poor, cannot afford adequate legal assistance. Therefore, all lawyers should devote professional time and resources and use civic influence to ensure equal access to our system of justice for all those who because of economic or social barriers cannot afford or secure adequate legal counsel. A lawyer should aid the legal profession in pursuing these objectives and should help the bar regulate itself in the public interest.

[7] Many of a lawyer’s professional responsibilities are prescribed in the Rules of Professional Conduct, as well as substantive and procedural law. However, a lawyer is also guided by personal conscience and the approbation of professional peers. A lawyer should strive to attain the highest level of skill, to improve the law and the legal profession and to exemplify the legal profession’s ideals of public service.

[8] A lawyer’s responsibilities as a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen are usually harmonious. Thus, when an opposing party is well represented, a lawyer can be a zealous advocate on behalf of a client and at the same time assume that justice is being done. So also, a lawyer can be sure that preserving client confidences ordinarily serves the public interest because people are more likely to seek legal advice, and thereby heed their legal obligations, when they know their communications will be private.

[9] In the nature of law practice, however, conflicting responsibilities are encountered. Virtually all difficult ethical problems arise from conflict between a lawyer’s responsibilities to clients, to the legal system and to the lawyer’s own interest in remaining an ethical person while earning a satisfactory living. The Rules of Professional Conduct often prescribe terms for resolving such conflicts. Within the framework of these Rules, however, many difficult issues of professional discretion can arise. Such issues must be resolved through the exercise of sensitive professional and moral judgment guided by the basic principles underlying the Rules. These principles include the lawyer’s obligation zealously to protect and pursue a client’s legitimate interests, within the bounds of the law, while maintaining a professional, courteous and civil attitude toward all persons involved in the legal system.

[10] The legal profession is largely self-governing. Although other professions also have been granted powers of self-government, the legal profession is unique in this respect because of the close relationship between the profession and the processes of government and law enforcement. This connection is manifested in the fact that ultimate authority over the legal profession is vested largely in the courts.

[11] To the extent that lawyers meet the obligations of their professional calling, the occasion for government regulation is obviated. Self-regulation also helps maintain the legal profession’s independence from government domination. An independent legal profession is an important force in preserving government under law, for abuse of legal authority is more readily challenged by a profession whose members are not dependent on government for the right to practice.

[12] The legal profession’s relative autonomy carries with it special responsibilities of self-government. The profession has a responsibility to assure that its regulations are conceived in the public interest and not in furtherance of parochial or self-interested concerns of the bar. Every lawyer is responsible for observance of the Rules of Professional Conduct. A lawyer should also aid in securing their observance by other lawyers. Neglect of these responsibilities compromises the independence of the profession and the public interest which it serves.

[13] Lawyers play a vital role in the preservation of society. The fulfillment of this role requires an understanding by lawyers of their relationship to our legal system. The Rules of Professional Conduct, when properly applied, serve to define that relationship.

SCOPE

[14] The Rules of Professional Conduct are rules of reason. They should be interpreted with reference to the purposes of legal representation and of the law itself. Some of the Rules are imperatives, cast in the terms “shall” or “shall not.” These define proper conduct for purposes of professional discipline. Others, generally cast in the term “may,” are permissive and define areas under the Rules in which the lawyer has discretion to exercise professional judgment. No disciplinary action should be taken when the lawyer chooses not to act or acts within the bounds of such discretion. Other Rules define the nature of relationships between the lawyer and others. The Rules are thus partly obligatory and disciplinary and partly constitutive and descriptive in that they define a lawyer’s professional role. Many of the Comments use the term “should.” Comments do not add obligations to the Rules but provide guidance for practicing in compliance with the Rules.

[15] The Rules presuppose a larger legal context shaping the lawyer’s role. That context includes court rules and statutes relating to matters of licensure, laws defining specific obligations of lawyers and substantive and procedural law in general. The Comments are sometimes used to alert lawyers to their responsibilities under such other law.

[16] Compliance with the Rules, as with all law in an open society, depends primarily upon understanding and voluntary compliance, secondarily upon reinforcement by peer and public opinion and finally, when necessary, upon enforcement through disciplinary proceedings. The Rules do not, however, exhaust the moral and ethical considerations that should inform a lawyer, for no worthwhile human activity can be completely defined by legal rules. The Rules simply provide a framework for the ethical practice of law.

[17] Furthermore, for purposes of determining the lawyer’s authority and responsibility, principles of substantive law external to these Rules determine whether a client-lawyer relationship exists. Most of the duties flowing from the client-lawyer relationship attach only after the client has requested the lawyer to render legal services and the lawyer has agreed to do so. But there are some duties, such as that of confidentiality under Rule 1.6, that attach when the lawyer agrees to consider whether a client-lawyer relationship shall be established. See Rule 1.18. Whether a client-lawyer relationship exists for any specific purpose can depend on the circumstances and may be a question of fact.

[18] Under various legal provisions, including constitutional, statutory and common law, the responsibilities of government lawyers may include authority concerning legal matters that ordinarily reposes in the client in private client-lawyer relationships. For example, a lawyer for a government agency may have authority on behalf of the government to decide upon settlement or whether to appeal from an adverse judgment. Such authority in various respects is generally vested in the attorney general and the state’s attorney in state government, and their federal counterparts, and the same may be true of other government law officers. Also, lawyers under the supervision of these officers may be authorized to represent several government agencies in intragovernmental legal controversies in circumstances where a private lawyer could not represent multiple private clients. These Rules do not abrogate any such authority.

[19] Failure to comply with an obligation or prohibition imposed by a Rule is a basis for invoking the disciplinary process. The Rules presuppose that disciplinary assessment of a lawyer’s conduct will be made on the basis of the facts and circumstances as they existed at the time of the conduct in question and in recognition of the fact that a lawyer often has to act upon uncertain or incomplete evidence of the situation. Moreover, the Rules presuppose that whether or not discipline should be imposed for a violation, and the severity of a sanction, depend on all the circumstances, such as the willfulness and seriousness of the violation, extenuating factors and whether there have been previous violations.

[20] Violation of a Rule should not itself give rise to a cause of action against a lawyer nor should it create any presumption in such a case that a legal duty has been breached. In addition, violation of a Rule does not necessarily warrant any other nondisciplinary remedy, such as disqualification of a lawyer in pending litigation. The Rules are designed to provide guidance to lawyers and to provide a structure for regulating conduct through disciplinary agencies. They are not designed to be a basis for civil liability. Furthermore, the purpose of the Rules can be subverted when they are invoked by opposing parties as procedural weapons. The fact that a Rule is a just basis for a lawyer’s self-assessment, or for sanctioning a lawyer under the administration of a disciplinary authority, does not imply that an antagonist in a collateral proceeding or transaction has standing to seek enforcement of the Rule. Nevertheless, since the Rules do establish standards of conduct by lawyers, a lawyer’s violation of a Rule may be evidence of breach of the applicable standard of conduct.

[21] The Comment accompanying each Rule explains and illustrates the meaning and purpose of the Rule. The Preamble and this note on Scope provide general orientation. The Comments are intended as guides to interpretation, but the text of each Rule is authoritative.

[4] In all professional functions a lawyer should be competent, prompt and diligent. A lawyer should maintain communication with a client concerning the representation. A lawyer should keep in confidence information relating to representation of a client except so far as disclosure is required or permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.

[5] A lawyer’s conduct should conform to the requirements of the law, both in professional service to clients and in the lawyer’s business and personal affairs. A lawyer should use the law’s procedures only for legitimate purposes and not to harass or intimidate others. A lawyer should demonstrate respect for the legal system and for those who serve it, including judges, other lawyers and public officials. While it is a lawyer’s duty, when necessary, to challenge the rectitude of official action, it is also a lawyer’s duty to uphold legal process.

[6] As a public citizen, a lawyer should seek improvement of the law, access to the legal system, the administration of justice and the quality of service rendered by the legal profession. As a member of a learned profession, a lawyer should cultivate knowledge of the law beyond its use for clients, employ that knowledge in reform of the law and work to strengthen legal education. In addition, a lawyer should further the public’s understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system because legal institutions in a constitutional democracy depend on popular participation and support to maintain their authority. A lawyer should be mindful of deficiencies in the administration of justice and of the fact that the poor, and sometimes persons who are not poor, cannot afford adequate legal assistance. Therefore, all lawyers should devote professional time and resources and use civic influence to ensure equal access to our system of justice for all those who because of economic or social barriers cannot afford or secure adequate legal counsel. A lawyer should aid the legal profession in pursuing these objectives and should help the bar regulate itself in the public interest.

[7] Many of a lawyer’s professional responsibilities are prescribed in the Rules of Professional Conduct, as well as substantive and procedural law. However, a lawyer is also guided by personal conscience and the approbation of professional peers. A lawyer should strive to attain the highest level of skill, to improve the law and the legal profession and to exemplify the legal profession’s ideals of public service.

[8] A lawyer’s responsibilities as a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen are usually harmonious. Thus, when an opposing party is well represented, a lawyer can be a zealous advocate on behalf of a client and at the same time assume that justice is being done. So also, a lawyer can be sure that preserving client confidences ordinarily serves the public interest because people are more likely to seek legal advice, and thereby heed their legal obligations, when they know their communications will be private.

[9] In the nature of law practice, however, conflicting responsibilities are encountered. Virtually all difficult ethical problems arise from conflict between a lawyer’s responsibilities to clients, to the legal system and to the lawyer’s own interest in remaining an ethical person while earning a satisfactory living. The Rules of Professional Conduct often prescribe terms for resolving such conflicts. Within the framework of these Rules, however, many difficult issues of professional discretion can arise. Such issues must be resolved through the exercise of sensitive professional and moral judgment guided by the basic principles underlying the Rules. These principles include the lawyer’s obligation zealously to protect and pursue a client’s legitimate interests, within the bounds of the law, while maintaining a professional, courteous and civil attitude toward all persons involved in the legal system.

[10] The legal profession is largely self-governing. Although other professions also have been granted powers of self-government, the legal profession is unique in this respect because of the close relationship between the profession and the processes of government and law enforcement. This connection is manifested in the fact that ultimate authority over the legal profession is vested largely in the courts.

[11] To the extent that lawyers meet the obligations of their professional calling, the occasion for government regulation is obviated. Self-regulation also helps maintain the legal profession’s independence from government domination. An independent legal profession is an important force in preserving government under law, for abuse of legal authority is more readily challenged by a profession whose members are not dependent on government for the right to practice.

[12] The legal profession’s relative autonomy carries with it special responsibilities of self-government. The profession has a responsibility to assure that its regulations are conceived in the public interest and not in furtherance of parochial or self-interested concerns of the bar. Every lawyer is responsible for observance of the Rules of Professional Conduct. A lawyer should also aid in securing their observance by other lawyers. Neglect of these responsibilities compromises the independence of the profession and the public interest which it serves.

[13] Lawyers play a vital role in the preservation of society. The fulfillment of this role requires an understanding by lawyers of their relationship to our legal system. The Rules of Professional Conduct, when properly applied, serve to define that relationship.

SCOPE

[14] The Rules of Professional Conduct are rules of reason. They should be interpreted with reference to the purposes of legal representation and of the law itself. Some of the Rules are imperatives, cast in the terms “shall” or “shall not.” These define proper conduct for purposes of professional discipline. Others, generally cast in the term “may,” are permissive and define areas under the Rules in which the lawyer has discretion to exercise professional judgment. No disciplinary action should be taken when the lawyer chooses not to act or acts within the bounds of such discretion. Other Rules define the nature of relationships between the lawyer and others. The Rules are thus partly obligatory and disciplinary and partly constitutive and descriptive in that they define a lawyer’s professional role. Many of the Comments use the term “should.” Comments do not add obligations to the Rules but provide guidance for practicing in compliance with the Rules.

[15] The Rules presuppose a larger legal context shaping the lawyer’s role. That context includes court rules and statutes relating to matters of licensure, laws defining specific obligations of lawyers and substantive and procedural law in general. The Comments are sometimes used to alert lawyers to their responsibilities under such other law.

[16] Compliance with the Rules, as with all law in an open society, depends primarily upon understanding and voluntary compliance, secondarily upon reinforcement by peer and public opinion and finally, when necessary, upon enforcement through disciplinary proceedings. The Rules do not, however, exhaust the moral and ethical considerations that should inform a lawyer, for no worthwhile human activity can be completely defined by legal rules. The Rules simply provide a framework for the ethical practice of law.

[17] Furthermore, for purposes of determining the lawyer’s authority and responsibility, principles of substantive law external to these Rules determine whether a client-lawyer relationship exists. Most of the duties flowing from the client-lawyer relationship attach only after the client has requested the lawyer to render legal services and the lawyer has agreed to do so. But there are some duties, such as that of confidentiality under Rule 1.6, that attach when the lawyer agrees to consider whether a client-lawyer relationship shall be established. See Rule 1.18. Whether a client-lawyer relationship exists for any specific purpose can depend on the circumstances and may be a question of fact.

[18] Under various legal provisions, including constitutional, statutory and common law, the responsibilities of government lawyers may include authority concerning legal matters that ordinarily reposes in the client in private client-lawyer relationships. For example, a lawyer for a government agency may have authority on behalf of the government to decide upon settlement or whether to appeal from an adverse judgment. Such authority in various respects is generally vested in the attorney general and the state’s attorney in state government, and their federal counterparts, and the same may be true of other government law officers. Also, lawyers under the supervision of these officers may be authorized to represent several government agencies in intragovernmental legal controversies in circumstances where a private lawyer could not represent multiple private clients. These Rules do not abrogate any such authority.

[19] Failure to comply with an obligation or prohibition imposed by a Rule is a basis for invoking the disciplinary process. The Rules presuppose that disciplinary assessment of a lawyer’s conduct will be made on the basis of the facts and circumstances as they existed at the time of the conduct in question and in recognition of the fact that a lawyer often has to act upon uncertain or incomplete evidence of the situation. Moreover, the Rules presuppose that whether or not discipline should be imposed for a violation, and the severity of a sanction, depend on all the circumstances, such as the willfulness and seriousness of the violation, extenuating factors and whether there have been previous violations.

[20] Violation of a Rule should not itself give rise to a cause of action against a lawyer nor should it create any presumption in such a case that a legal duty has been breached. In addition, violation of a Rule does not necessarily warrant any other nondisciplinary remedy, such as disqualification of a lawyer in pending litigation. The Rules are designed to provide guidance to lawyers and to provide a structure for regulating conduct through disciplinary agencies. They are not designed to be a basis for civil liability. Furthermore, the purpose of the Rules can be subverted when they are invoked by opposing parties as procedural weapons. The fact that a Rule is a just basis for a lawyer’s self-assessment, or for sanctioning a lawyer under the administration of a disciplinary authority, does not imply that an antagonist in a collateral proceeding or transaction has standing to seek enforcement of the Rule. Nevertheless, since the Rules do establish standards of conduct by lawyers, a lawyer’s violation of a Rule may be evidence of breach of the applicable standard of conduct.

[21] The Comment accompanying each Rule explains and illustrates the meaning and purpose of the Rule. The Preamble and this note on Scope provide general orientation. The Comments are intended as guides to interpretation, but the text of each Rule is authoritative.

Attorney-Client Sex: A Bad Idea That’s Also Unethical

For decades, regulators and courts have ruled that sex with a client during the course of the professional relationship is unethical. Nonetheless, lawyers continue to flout precedent and are frequently disciplined for engaging in sexual relations with their clients.

Some cases of impermissible attorney-client sex are no brainers–such as the attorney who insists on a “legal services-for-sexual services” fee arrangement. Still, many attorneys believe that as long as the relationship is consensual, what happens between two consenting adults is none of bar counsel’s business.

That kind of thinking would be a mistake. Indeed, courts and bar organizations provide many justifications for regulating the personal aspects of the attorney-client relationship. And now the majority of jurisdictions in the United States include an outright ban on attorney-client intimacy during the course of the professional relationship.


The ABA Model Rule 1.8(j)

In 2002, following growing recognition of a “lawyer’s gone wild” problem, the ABA adopted Model Rule 1.8(j), which imposes a per se ban on attorney-client sex. The ban carves out only sexual relationships that predate the attorney-client relationship – after all, lawyers should be free to represent their spouses.

Today, over 30 states have adopted Rule 1.8(j). Most recently, on November 30, 2018, California replaced its previous regulation on attorney-client sex with a per se ban. California’s prior rule was criticized for being under-enforced because it left too many “outs” for the lawyer–such as requiring bar counsel to demonstrate that the sex resulted in the lawyer doing something else unethical, such as providing incompetent representation. In California’s experience, the prior test was unworkable, leading to the new per se ban.

It’s About Power

The traditional ethics-based rationales behind the regulation is a realization that sex is not about sex–it is about power. Or more precisely, an imbalance of power.

Clients come to their lawyers for help in solving their legal problems.  For the relationship to work, clients must feel free to share with their attorneys their secrets, which could include very personal, intimate details of their lives.  The information is sacred and must be used by the attorney only for the client’s best interests and consistent with the client’s legal needs.

Clients are also often emotionally vulnerable when they come to their lawyers for help.  They may be facing a serious dilemma and their rights in their freedom, or their property, or their own personal or business affairs, may be at stake.  The lawyer’s number one job is to protect their client. 

Moreover, the attorney-client relationship is a fiduciary one.  The client has placed complete trust in the lawyer who is bound to act in the best interest of the trusting party.  A fiduciary relationship exists:

[w]herever confidence on one side results in superiority and influence on the other side; where a special confidence is reposed in one who in equity and good conscience is bound to act in good faith and with due regard to the interests of the one reposing the confidence; where confidence is reposed and accepted, whether the origin is moral, social, domestic, or merely personal; or where a person has knowledge and authority which he is bound to exercise for the benefit of another person.

There should be nothing, therefore, and no one, during the course of the relationship that interferes with or limits the lawyer’s professional judgment and the lawyer must be able to render candid advice to their client.  Moreover, lawyers are prohibited from engaging in conduct that involves dishonesty, deceit, or misrepresentation, and engaging in a sexual relationship with a client—with all of the trappings that come along with such a relationship—could raise a substantial question as to the lawyer’s honesty or fitness to practice.

A sexual or intimate relationship started after the commencement of the legal representation has at least the reasonable possibility of adversely influencing the lawyer’s judgment, creating a personal conflict of interest, and allowing the lawyer to use client confidential information for the lawyer’s personal advantage. 

When sex is thrown into the mix, the lawyer’s judgment could be clouded.  They could be put into the situation of having their ethics questioned—even by their own client, who may feel that they were taken advantage of, were emotionally not able to consent, or gave into impulses either because of their vulnerable state or because they believed, rightly or wrongly, that intimacy was part of the quid pro quo for the continuing loyalty and zealous representation to which they were entitled.  Thus, in addition to potentially harming the lawyers’ reputation and ability to practice, engaging in intimate relations with clients raises a non-trivial risk that the lawyer, whether intentionally or not, well intended or not, will violate one or more of the rules of professional conduct. 

Cases involving attorney-client sex arise across practice areas, although history has proven that attorneys who practice in the areas of criminal law and domestic relations have a greater chance of becoming intimate with their client.

For example, in In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Atta, an attorney represented a client in a divorce proceeding.  During the course of the representation, the attorney told his client, whose husband had left her and married another, that the attorney had strong feelings for her and discussed one day marrying her.  Subsequently the client accused her attorney of failing to timely file her divorce papers and asserted the attorney had “taken advantage of her by engaging in a sexual relationship with her while she was in an emotional stage in her life.”            

The Supreme Court of Wisconsin found that by representing his client while simultaneously engaging in a romantic relationship with her, the attorney violated: (1) Rule 1.7(a)(2), due to the lawyer’s material limitation based upon his personal interest; (2) Rule 1.16(a) for failing to withdraw from the representation once the conflict arose; and (3) Rule 1.8(j) by having sexual relations with a client while representing her in the divorce action. Other related ethics rules also were alleged to have been violated arising from the attorney’s denial of having any sexual or inappropriate contact with the client, including during the course of the bar counsel’s disciplinary investigation and court proceedings.


The Exception to the Ban

The comments to Rule 1.8(j) clarify that a sexual relationship that predates the formation of the attorney-client relationship are not prohibited—at least not by Rule 1.8(j).  Thus, one could under Model Rule 1.8(j0 take their lover as their client, but not the other way around—at least not during the existence of the attorney-client relationship.  The comments to ABA Model Rule 1.8 note that this exception for pre-existing relationships could still run afoul of other rules of professional conduct and warns that “before proceeding with the representation in these circumstances [of a pre-existing relationship], the lawyer should consider whether the lawyer’s ability to represent the client will be materially limited by the relationship.

Organization as the Client

Rule 1.8(j)’s comments add further gloss when the “client” is an organization, in which case the rule “prohibits a lawyer for the organization whether inside counsel or outside counsel) from having a sexual relationship with a constituent of the organization who supervises, directs or regularly consults with that lawyer concerning the organization’s legal matters. 

Ordinarily, if one attorney is conflicted from a representation, then all lawyers associated in a firm with that lawyer are also conflicted.  The exception, however, is that imputed disqualification does not apply to conduct covered by Rule 1.8(j).  The comments explain that “The prohibition set forth in [Rule 1.8(j)] is personal and is not applied to associated lawyers.


Conclusion

A slight majority of jurisdictions in the United States expressly ban attorney-client sexual relations that commence after the start of the representation.  Other jurisdictions are still considering adding an equivalent to Model Rule 1.8(j) to their existing rules. 

There are many ways that attorney-client sexual relations may interfere with the lawyer’s professional responsibility obligations to their clients. 

Before entering into a “consensual” sexual relationship with a client, a lawyer should be mindful of the rules in their particular jurisdiction. 

Whether or not the lawyer is practicing in a jurisdiction that has adopted some version of Rule 1.8(j), if the lawyer is considering entering into an intimate relationship with a client, they should consider what is in the client’s best legal interests.  The attorney should strongly consider either referring the client to another lawyer or to refrain from entering into an intimate client relationship until the client representation has concluded.

How To Build A Law Firm’s Reputation To Garner New Business

5 Ways to Attract New Clients to Your Law Firm

The legal profession is under considerable strain. From an overwhelming mass of lawyers to highly cost-sensitive clientele to technology eating away at profits, law firms must focus on building their reputations if they are to survive let alone thrive. While the cornerstone of a law firm’s reputation is its legal expertise, other components come into play. Thought leadership and exceptional interpersonal relationships are two of them.

According to Frank Carone, executive partner at Abrams Fensterman and a renowned personal advisor to business owners and the wealthy, “The traditional focus on all the things that can go wrong is not going to be enough for law firms to be successful in today’s hyper-competitive environment. It’s becoming essential for law firms to be thinking ahead to show the way. The most successful law firms are thought, leaders. They need to be proactively looking for ways to help their clients become more successful. While this does involve solid risk mitigation, it also often entails combining state-of-the-art legal thinking with a strong understanding of business issues. Lawyers need to be creative and innovative in order to identify ways for their clients to excel.”

What Potential Clients Look for When They Visit Your Legal Site - Law  Technology Today

Thought leadership is increasingly important to the success of lawyers and their firms. It is essential for the content to be meaningful and insightful to the intended audiences. Problematically, most law firms fail to deliver high-value content. Moreover, in many law firms thought leadership initiatives are more regurgitation of other people’s ideas and are a form of thought fellowship.

Law firm reputations are also built in the trenches. The ability of lawyers to work effectively with clients is often paramount to building a sterling reputation. “Solid interpersonal skills are essential for lawyers today,” says Jeffrey Chiesa, co-chair of Chiesa, Shahinian & Giantomasi. “Lawyers must build trust with their clients. This is only possible when they are able to prove their expertise, when everything is transparent to clients, and when they are demonstrably efficient and reliable. It’s essential to not just meet client expectations but to exceed them. By building trust, lawyers at the law firm are building the law firm’s reputation.”

A law firm’s reputation is increasingly important in sourcing new business. So much so that it might very well be a mistake to not take steps to foster a powerful reputation. A number of factors play into this with legal expertise being primary. Meanwhile, being a thought leader and having lawyers with excellent interpersonal skills can be very effective in building the law firm’s reputation and consequently garnering new business.