Archive for August, 2011

Gaming the System

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Many legal malpractice actions arise out of underlying problems attorneys have that are unrelated to the legal matters they are handling.  According to various studies, up to 60 percent of all legal malpractice cases relate to alcoholism.  Drug addiction is another underlying problem that is often at the root of legal malpractice cases.  The prevalence of drug and alcohol addiction is even greater in disciplinary matters with addiction being involved in 50-70 percent of all disciplinary actions.

The Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board has recently added a new addiction to the list of problems faced by attorneys.  A Pennsylvania lawyer blamed addiction to video games for the disciplinary violations that caused him to be suspended for three years.  The 89-page disciplinary opinion contains 17 different charges and concludes the attorney violated 15 different rules of professional conduct including various sections of Rules 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.15, 1.16, 3.3 and 8.4.

Malpractice avoidance requires recognizing when your behaviors diminish your ability to represent your clients.  It also requires recognizing patterns of behavior in other attorneys in your office which affect their representation of clients.  The studies cited above suggest that up to 25 percent of attorneys have problems with alcohol abuse, add to that drugs, gambling, and now video games, and you have a good likelihood that there is an attorney in any firm who is a problem just waiting to happen.  There are resources to address these issues before they become serious problems, including the well respected Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers.  If you, or an attorney you know has an addiction problem, get help before it becomes a legal problem as well.

-Josh J.T. Byrne, Esquire

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Be Careful What You Promise

Friday, August 19th, 2011

Managing client expectations is one of the foremost weapons in an attorney’s malpractice avoidance arsenal.  Clients who know what is coming are much less likely to find blame in a loss, or a victory that was not as resounding as hoped.  Naturally, the opposite side of the coin, promising clients what you cannot give, is a sure road for disaster.  Several Southern California law firms learned that lesson yesterday when the Attorney General shut their offices down.  The Attorney General is suing the lawyers involved in a scheme to obtain clients with false promises of mortgage modification.  The defendants solicited homeowners in 17 U.S. states, with more than 2 million pieces of mail.  The defendants obtained retainer fees of up to $10,000 from approximately 2,500 borrowers to participate in “mass joinder” lawsuits.   The defendants initiated the scheme by sending out mailers notifying borrowers that they were potential plaintiffs in a “national litigation settlement” with their lenders.  However, no settlements existed, and in some cases no lawsuit was even  filed.

A lawyer who promises what they cannot provide is a lawyer destine for trouble.  A lawyer who obtains clients with claims that are false is a lawyer who is already in trouble.  Malpractice avoidance requires you be careful of what you promise.

-Josh J.T. Byrne, Esquire

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Coming to America

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

We have blogged before about internet scams addressed to attorneys.  On Friday, Nigeria’s anti-graft agency announced the extradition of Emmanuel Ekhator to the United States.  Mr. Ekhator was one of the scammers whose indictment we previously wrote about.  Mr. Ekhator stands accused of defrauding dozens of lawyers and law firms of more than $31 million, and attempting to defraud others of more than $100 million.

The scam was quite sophisticated.  An e-mail would seek a lawyer’s help collecting money.  The lawyer would then be contacted by a purported representative for the person or company owing the money who would offer to pay the debt.  When the lawyer received the check, the lawyer would deposit it, and would wire the funds to an Asian bank.  It was only later that the lawyer would discover the check was fraudulent.

-Josh J.T. Byrne, Esquire

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Twenty-Eight Years

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Former Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge, Mark A. Ciavarella, Jr., was sentenced this morning to 28 years imprisonment in the now infamous “cash for kids” scandal.  Ciavarella will be 89 when the sentence runs.  Ciavarell was also ordered to pay over a million dollars in restitution.  We have written before (here, here, and here) about the problem of taking money that does not belong to you, but what Ciavarella did was something worse, and the punishment reflects that.

-Josh J.T. Byrne, Esquire

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Beg, borrow, steal?

Monday, August 1st, 2011

We have written before on the dangers of “easy money” for lawyers.  This morning’s paper brings news of another lawyer facing fraud charges for accepting money from a Philadelphia City program to expand his business, using the money for personal purposes, and then not paying the money back.

A significant tip for malpractice avoidance is to remember that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.  Easy money is generally a myth, and most schemes which generate “easy money” generate equal amounts of trouble.

-Josh J.T. Byrne, Esquire

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