Rules of Endorsement

How do you get the required signatures from your client on settlement checks and other documents?  When and how can you sign for your client?    How do you get the proper signature when the check or document’s here and the client’s there?  Clients sometimes ask to avoid two visits to your office, first to sign the settlement waiver, then to receive disbursed proceeds after the settlement check has cleared.  Many attorneys believe that a power of attorney provision in the representation agreement is sufficient to:  1. Settle the client’s case, and 2. Authorize the attorney to sign the client’s name to settlement documents and to endorse checks received.  This is a very dangerous belief.

General provisions in a representation agreement do not supplant an attorney’s ethical duties under the Rules of Professional Conduct.  Rule 1.2 requires that the lawyer abide by the client’s decision whether to settle a matter and requires that the lawyer must consult with the client and abide by the client’s decisions concerning the scope and objectives of representation.  Rule 1.4 sets forth the lawyer’s duty to communicate with the client regarding the status of the matter, to inform the client of any decision or circumstance with respect to which the client’s informed consent is required, and to explain a matter to the client to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.

While a client may provide the lawyer with a settlement range that is acceptable to the client for negotiation, the lawyer generally should not commit the client to a settlement without the client’s express agreement to the exact terms of the proposed settlement.

Assuming that the client has expressly approved specific terms of settlement, can the lawyer execute settlement documents and endorse settlement checks as a convenience to the client?  It is the better practice to have the client sign all documents requiring the client’s signature.  If there is a compelling reason why the client cannot sign herself, the lawyer should first obtain written authorization to sign on behalf of the client.  When the lawyer does sign documents in place of the client, she must clearly indicate that the signature is by the lawyer on behalf of the client.  Simply signing the client’s name, even with authorization, is a false act and a violation of Rule 8.4(a)(4).  See In the Matter of Dock H. Davis, 291 Ga. 169 (2012).  And if you don’t make the mistake of signing your client’s name without so indicating, you will surely not make the mistake of then notarizing the client’s signature as if she had signed it herself!  If the bank will not accept the endorsement indicating that the lawyer signed for the client, then you will have to obtain the client’s signature.  It is never acceptable to simply sign the client’s name as if the client signed the document herself.

In a future post, we may go into the many digital signature situations that arise in practice, but for now, make sure you understand and comply with the proper rules of endorsement!

Tina and Natalie

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Name Changes!

When a lawyer changes her or his name, most commonly due to marriage or divorce, which name should she or he use for professional purposes?  Can the lawyer use both names?  Name changes often generate questions for lawyers, particularly solo practitioners who have much invested in the name under which they have been practicing.  So we thought it would be helpful to offer some guidance on this topic.

The Bar’s concern is that clients and members of the public should be able to correctly identify a lawyer by checking the Bar’s membership directory, and that the public is not confused or misled by the lawyer’s use of different names.  See Rule 7.5(a).

The name that a lawyer uses for professional purposes should be the same name that is associated with the lawyer in the membership records of the State Bar of Georgia.  Professional purposes include all communications to the public such as firm name, advertising, letterhead, etc. as well as the name used on pleadings and other professional documents.  If the lawyer decides to change his or her name, that change should first be made with the State Bar Membership Department.  The lawyer should only then begin using the new name professionally.  To avoid confusion, the lawyer may include a parenthetical “formerly known as Jane Doe” on documents and public communications for a reasonable transition period.  What the lawyer should not do is practice under two different names.

An extra practice management tip for names:  Make sure you capture aliases in your contact records.  Also, use social security numbers or other constant identifiers for conflicts checking in addition to names so you don’t miss anyone who happens to change their name!

Tina & Natalie

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ABA TECHSHOW 2015 was Great!!!

A week has gone by and I am still digging out from all of the cool stuff I learned at ABA TECHSHOW this year.  I really enjoyed attending as the immediate Past Chair, and I am truly amazed at how much work I must have done last year to get this kind of conference to fruition!

There were interesting sessions on data security and cloud computing and a bustling exhibit hall chock full of vendors in the cloud and data management spaces.  In a future posting, I will provide some detailed vendors alongside their offering and benefits, but for now, let’s just say we went, we saw, and we liked!

See http://www.techshow.com for post-show details and to get ready for next year.  It will happen on St. Patrick’s Day in 2016!

– Natalie Kelly

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ABA TECHSHOW 2015 – Next Month in Chicago!

If you don’t already have your registration confirmation for this year’s ABA TECHSHOW, then you need to hurry and sign up!

I truly enjoyed leading the conference on last year, and having the opportunity to make it a record-breaking year for the ABA Law Practice Division’s program.  But, I am just as excited about this year.

All the information you need is at www.techshow.com.  Check out the conference schedule and find some time to get to Chicago for ABA TECHSHOW 2015!  You can also see what we’ve said about TECHSHOW in past years here and here.

P.S. There is a special State Bar of Georgia Event Promoter discount for registration.  Contact Pam Myers in the Law Practice Management Program at pamm@gabar.org or 404-527-8621 for the code before registering.

-Natalie

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Top Things for 2015 – That You Might Have Missed in 2014

Start 2015 with a review of all of your advertising materials to make sure that they are in compliance with the revised Rule 7.2 which became effective in March 2014.  The most common problem we’ve seen is the failure to include the lawyer or firm’s address in advertising.  Please be aware that the requirements of Rule 7.2 apply to all media—billboards, print ads, television and radio, websites, etc.  As there has been ample time for everyone to bring their advertising into compliance, please don’t make us have to tell you that yours needs changing.

Over 700 data breaches have occurred in 2014 according to the ID Theft Center.  See http://www.idtheftcenter.org/images/breach/DataBreachReports_2014.pdf   Of course, the numbers are most likely higher because of the probability that some breaches went undisclosed and/or unreported.  So, what does this have to do with Georgia lawyers?  Well, as we have been telling lawyers in CLEs for the past few years now, it is vitally important to protect your business and your Bar license by making sure you are not inadvertently disclosing confidential client information.  Data security and protection has been one of the top items being dealt with by members seeking resources from the Law Practice Management Program, and in 2015 we want to make sure you have what you need to protect yourself and your practice.  Contact the program for specific material and information on data security for your firm.

Cloud computing for lawyers is hot!  And even with the damper that sometimes comes with the knowledge about security concerns online (see above on data breaches), many firms are finding that the benefits outweigh the risks when it comes to using the power (and the space) of the Internet to store and manage documents (think Dropbox, Box, eVault, Google Drive, Mozy, Carbonite, and other online services for back up and document handling) from wherever there is Internet access.  The mobility revolution has made it possible to work from almost anywhere and the cloud delivering up solutions to get at a lawyer’s entire firm’s information and system seems to be catching on quickly.  Think about how many lawyers you know are looking for ways to minimize their computer and computer consulting costs.  The cloud services providers are delivering options that are getting more and more robust, and suitable for the daily work of law firms.  Yes, Virginia, this means you might be able to use that office back closet from something other than the server room now!

If you do decide to take advantage of the benefits of cloud storage, PLEASE also take advantage of LPM’s resources on security.  Also, it is a wise practice for you to inform your clients about how you will store their information.  Some may appreciate the convenience of access to their files, while others may strongly object.  If there is a breach, you will at least be able to show that your clients were aware of your use of cloud storage.

 

Happy Holidays from Tina and Natalie!

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Happy Thanksgiving from the Georgia Practice Advisor!

Tina and Natalie wish you a very safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday!

Note:  We’ll be back with a year-end and New Year’s post soon!

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More State Bar Benefits!!!

A few posts ago, we discussed some of the main or more well-known member benefits for Georgia lawyers.  That list was not exhaustive, and because we haven’t posted in a while, we wanted to share a couple more with you. (Actually, we kept the last post up for a long time because it is very, very important!  Please read it here, if you didn’t before.)

So here goes:

1) Online Vendor Directory – On the State Bar’s website, this is known as the “Discounts/Services for Members” area under the Attorney Resources heading.  This directory is a listing of not only the hotel discounts members can receive on properties near the Bar centers – Atlanta, Tifton and Savannah, but also includes groups of products adn services for virtually anything a lawyer will need.  Office supplies, legal technology, and even legal representation is available, and many vendors offer discounts through their listings.  If you run across a product or service that you should think should be included then please send the information to our member benefits coordinator, Sheila Baldwin, at sheilab@gabar.org or give her a call at 404-526-8618.

2) Office Start Up Kit – Well, if you’re one of our earlier followers, you already know that the Law Practice Management Program offers a free kit, Starting Your Georgia Law Practice.  Just contact the program for your copy! Check out our previous post about it and other office start-up help here.

3) Consumer Assistance Program – The number you need to have handy for someone having trouble with a lawyer – and we know this won’t be you -or their legal problems is the number for the Consumer Assistance Program.  It’s 404-527-8759 or 800-334-6865 Ext. 8759!  This service assists members of the public (and lawyers, too!) by providing information and referrals to the appropriate solutions.

4) Fee Arbitration Program – The Fee Arbitration Program can help with fee disputes between you and your clients or disputes between you and another lawyer or lawyers as a result of concerns from dissolution, fee sharing or partner withdrawals.

5) Free Meeting Space and PARKING at Bar Headquarters – Two of the most popular offerings of the State Bar of Georgia is its free space for members to meet and park at the Bar Headquarters!  If you need to have a meeting for a client consultation, group gathering or deposition, you can contact the Bar’s Conference Center and reserve a space at fayef@gabar.org or 404-419-0155.  This service is first-come, first-serve, but well worth it!  And, you get to park for free any time the Bar’s parking deck is open.  Yes, even on weekends for events, etc!  Check the Bar’s website under About the Bar and then Bar Offices to get an update for special parking deck hours.

Your State Bar has a lot of valuable resources, and we both hope you take advantage of them as you need!

– Natalie and Tina

 

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