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Lawyers Helping Lawyers Avoid the Perils of Professional Discipline

Counselor At Law

Q. Rather than focus on charges that may be tough to beat, my client repeatedly insists that she wouldn't be prosecuted at all if she were white. As a white woman, how can I get her off this racist rant?

A. As attorneys, we are trained to spot the issues in our cases, research the law, and apply the law to facts which may enable us to serve our clients' best interests. We prefer to focus on what we perceive to be the "merits" of the case and regard our client's digressions as time-consuming distractions.

But lawyers who limit their focus to narrow legal issues are only focused on one part of the job. We don't represent "issues." We represent people — people who bring their own emotions, fears, experiences and perspectives to each case.

A world-class oncologist who treats the tumor but neglects the patient is only doing half the job. The same is true of lawyers, whose bedside manner is often critical to successful outcomes, clear communications, fact-gathering and informed client decisions.

We are not just "attorneys at law," but "counselors at law" as well. The value we bring to each client lies not only in our legal analysis and advocacy, but in our ability to listen to our clients, help them manage their emotions and get them to focus on the task at hand.

Our first and most important job is to listen. Without knowing the facts of her case, I cannot determine the extent to which her views may be justified. Rather than dismiss her concerns as a "racist rant," I hope that you have fully investigated the facts and circumstances giving rise to her feelings.

Assuming that you have done so and do not believe that these facts will bolster her defense, there are two steps to getting your client to focus on the issues at hand:

1. Validate - clients confronting the legal system need to know that they are not alone. Even if you do not share her perspective, a little bit of empathy for your client's anxieties and fears can go a long way to earning trust, reducing tension, and fostering a productive attorney-client relationship. Regardless of the merits of the case, it's easy to understand a minority client's fear that systemic racism may hurt her in court. Even though you've heard it all before, give your client some space to express her concerns so that she knows at least one person in our legal system who still has her back; and

2. Redirect - as her counsel, explain that you must both deal with life on life's terms. Without debating her perspectives, you may speak from your own experience about how the legal system will respond to the facts of the case and the evidence the State will present against her. Though your client may have opportunities to reform the system down the road, let her know that, at present, you need her help in constructing an effective defense.

Just as your client must deal with the realities of her case, you must deal with the realities of your client. Attempting to shut her down and stifle these remarks won't make them go away — it may even give her the feeling, however misguided, that the "white woman" she hired is part of the problem.

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Attorney Grievance defense attorney specializes in defending lawyers in disciplinary proceedings before the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission and the D.C. Bar's Board on Professional Responsibility involving professional misconduct, legal ethics, disbarment, suspensions of law licenses, petitions for disciplinary action, reprimands and sanctions for unethical conduct. If you receive a letter from Bar Counsel Lydia Lawless, Disciplinary Counsel Hamilton Fox, or from any attorney disciplinary board in Maryland or the District of Columbia, retain experienced attorneys with expertise in lawyer discipline and breach of ethics cases to avoid sanctions for professional misconduct. We help lawyers avoid disbarment, suspension, reprimands, censure and informal admonitions by drafting responses to client grievances and ethical complaints; representing lawyers in peer reviews, evidentiary hearings, and oral arguments before the BPR and the Court of Appeals; filing petitions to reinstate an attorney's license to practice law; conducting law firm ethical compliance audits; and drafting legal ethics opinions to protect lawyers from ethics charges. In many cases, disciplinary proceedings may be dismissed, dismissed with a warning, or result in a conditional diversion agreement with Bar Counsel to rectify misconduct. Lawyers may need help in managing their law firm attorney escrow IOLTA trust account and complying with attorney trust accounting rules to avoid charges of ethical misconduct. Do not represent yourself in responding to an attorney grievance, law firm client complaint, or other allegation of ethical impropriety. Attorney grievance defense counsel may help you comply with legal ethics rules, avoid sanctions like suspension or disbarment, and avoid future attorney grievances.


By The Lawyer's Lawyers | Kramer & Connolly and Irwin R. Kramer who are responsible for the content of this informational website.   This website is designed for lawyers faced with attorney grievances. As cases do differ, past performance does not guarantee future results.