Ed Poll, a national expert in law office management, has an excellent article
in this month’s edition of Law Practice Today
about a phenomenon rarely mentioned anywhere: the staggering amount of pro bono legal services that are collectively provided by U.S. lawyers. Noting that the media like to focus on how much money lawyers make – including specifically mentioning a book called “Lawyers Gone Bad”– Poll notes that that law firm profitability has made it possible for lawyers to provide free legal services to the poor at an impressive level.
. . . in 2009 (the last year for available figures), at the height of the recession, 134 of the nation’s top law firms performed 4,867,820 hours of pro bono work, an increase of nearly 24,000 hours from 2008. The total translates to nearly $2 billion in free legal services, or the equivalent of 3,100 full time lawyers - almost the same as the number of full time salaried legal services attorneys in the U.S. And of course, that does not include the countless solo and small firm lawyers who do likewise. Hard to call them “lawyers gone bad.”
Posted: 5/24/2011 2:39:22 PM by On the Merits Editor | with 1 comments
A group of general counsel at some the nation’s largest law firms have made a proposal to the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20, which is reviewing the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct in light of recent changes in technology and global commerce. The large firms are proposing a separate regulatory regime for “sophisticated clients” by arguing that the current rules are designed primarily to protect individual consumers of legal services and can differ significantly from state to state.
From the proposal:
we believe that current regulatory structures do not well serve the needs of large, multi-jurisdictional law firms that are the key providers of legal services to such major businesses. The problem arises in large part because there is no single, uniform set of rules of professional conduct across the entire country. Instead, each state regulates lawyers independently, in many cases with conflicting and inconsistent results. Moreover, the rules imposed by the several states are primarily designed to protect individual consumers of legal services who may lack the experience or sophistication to protect themselves against unethical or otherwise improper conduct by the lawyers who represent them. While such rules may be perfectly sensible when dealing with such unsophisticated clients, the strictures and presumptions they impose do not work well when applied to relationships between large commercial enterprises and their outside counsel. Indeed, the effects of such application is to drive up the cost of legal services for such clients and, in some cases, to restrict the ability of clients to select the counsel of their choice.
Noting that consumer-oriented ethics rules present special issues for multi-national firms and clients, especially in areas like conflicts of interest, the proposal notes: . . .
large business enterprises – most of which have in-house law departments or other ready access to independent legal advice – are more than capable of understanding and protecting their own interests in dealings with outside counsel. As such, they should be free to reach binding agreements with their outside lawyers that serve their respective needs, even if some of the terms of those agreements may be inappropriate for individual or other clients who are less experienced in dealing with lawyers or legal matters.
Are we on the verge of having two sets of ethics rules? Stay tuned.
Posted: 5/17/2011 10:36:03 AM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments
Fictional TV shows involving lawyers frequently include plots with outrageous attorney behavior, but it isn’t quite as interesting (or as inconsequential) when lawyers try to emulate such tactics in real life. As most lawyers know, borderline behavior can be risky.
In Kansas, a federal judge recently upbraided an attorney
because he would not consent to a trial continuance requested by the defense counsel. The motion was based on the impending fatherhood of one of the defense attorneys, Bryan Erman of Dallas, whose wife is expecting their first child.
As it if it wasn’t bad enough to helpfully point out the number of non-stop flights available between Kansas City and Dallas, plaintiff’s counsel decided to, um, go even further. From Judge Eric Melgren’s order:
Plaintiffs make a lengthy and spirited argument about when Defendants should have known this would happen, even citing a pretrial conference occurring in early November as a time when Mr. Erman “most certainly” would have known of the due date of his child, and even more astonishingly arguing that “utilizing simple math, the due date for Mr. Erman’s child’s birth would have been known on approximately Oct. 3, or shortly thereafter.” For reasons of good taste which should be (though, apparently, are not) too obvious to explain, the Court declines to accept Plaintiff’s invitation to speculate on the time of conception of the Ermans’ child. . . . Certainly this judge is convinced of the importance of federal court, but he has always tried not to confuse what he does with who he is, nor to distort the priorities of his day job with his life’s role. Counsel are encouraged to order their priorities similarly. Defendant’s motion is GRANTED. The Ermans are CONGRATULATED.
No word on whether Plaintiff’s lawyer has children.
Posted: 5/3/2011 8:36:17 AM by On the Merits Editor | with 1 comments