Want to see us live? Bill & Natalie at State Bar’s Midyear Meeting CLE

Come join us on February 5th, at the State Bar’s Midyear Meeting.  Here are the CLE details and you can register on site!

TECHNOLOGY IN PRACTICE: AVOIDING ETHICAL LANDMINES AND MAXIMIZING TODAY’S TECHNOLOGY SKILLS AND TOOLS

9 A.M. – 12 P.M. | 3 CLE hours

Lawyers have realized they have to understand how to use technology, but knowing what they need to be wary of for ethical compliance and then learning how to best use systems can create concerns. The presenters will discuss hot ethical landmines to steer clear of when using technology; review cutting-edge technologies including an assessment tool geared toward helping lawyers understand their proficiency with commonly used software; and show attendees the new face of Fastcase. Each of the panelists will walk through some of their favorite technology solutions, showing you exactly how they work and explaining the benefits of using them. With the new skills and tools learned in this session, lawyers will be armed to use their current technology better as soon as they leave.

TOPICS:

Ethical Considerations for Today’s Technology:  William J. Cobb, Assistant General Counsel, State Bar of Georgia Office of the General Counsel, Atlanta

The New Face of Fastcase: Presenting Fastcase 7:  mSheila Baldwin, Member Benefits Coordinator, Law Practice Management Program, State Bar of Georgia, Atlanta

Legal Tech Tools and Know-How in 7-Minutes:   Sheila Baldwin; William J. Cobb; Natalie R. Kelly, Director, Law Practice Management Program, State Bar of Georgia, Atlanta Co-Sponsors: Law Practice Management Program, Office of the General Counsel, Young Lawyers Division, State Bar of Georgia

Unfavorable Online Reviews – What to Do (or Not)

That client said what about me! Being a lawyer representing people and organizations who could be on a winning or losing side means there will likely be someone who’s unhappy with a result, and if you the practitioner are not careful, they could also be unhappy with you personally.  Regardless of the reason for a client’s unhappiness, today a disgruntled individual can take to the airwaves online to express their displeasure.  Online sites like complaint.com and other negative feedback sites have long existed for consumers to make complaints, but with online lawyer directories with open comment areas and feedback ratings, the possibility of a negative client rating is now a reality for most lawyers.

So how should one deal with a bad rating or negative comments – true or not – when they have been placed online by your client or former client?

First, change the scenery.  Instead of responding online, simply pick up the phone and reach out to the client.  Conversation is usually better than email in these situations, and perhaps you can work out a retraction by clearing things up over a chat.  (A confrontational or defensive approach, of course, will just make things worse, whether oral or written.)  If the client or former client won’t speak to you, then move on to sending a handwritten note or letter – again, not an email unless there is no other way – discussing your position, sympathizing with their dismay about the results, and/or expressing any other sentiments which could lead to a reconciliation of the relationship.

Second, be acutely aware of your ethical duty to the client or former client.   GRPC Rule 1.6 severely limits a lawyer’s ability to respond to online criticism, because it makes presumptively confidential “all information gained in the professional relationship with a client,” regardless of the source, and with certain exceptions prohibits disclosure without the client’s “informed consent” (defined at Rule 1.0(h)). That obligation continues after the representation ends.  One exception is “to establish a . . . defense on behalf of the lawyer in a controversy between the lawyer and the client,” but don’t rely on that.  A typical legal definition of “controversy” is “a litigated question; adversary proceeding in a court of law; a civil action or suit.”  Comments [16] and [17] to Rule 1.6 refer to legal claims or disciplinary charges.  And in In Re Skinner, 295 Ga. 217 (2014), without even mentioning the defense exception, the court disciplined a lawyer who had posted information about a client in response to the client’s online criticism.

So if you can’t disclose any information you learned during the representation, what can you say?  You might say something like, “I respectfully disagree” and/or “ethics rules prevent me from responding.”  But consider whether even that is worth it, since from an already angry client it may well trigger an additional acidic post.  The impact of an isolated criticism or two will generally fade over time (and if clients are moved to attack you more often, serious self-examination is in order).  If the criticism is false and genuinely harmful, there are civil remedies.  Pampattiwar v. Hinson, 326 Ga. App. 163 (2014)(affirming verdict against former client based on fraud, libel per se, and false light invasion of privacy).

Getting over negative reviews will take patience and restraint, and should cause you to work hard to avoid them by doing your best to ensure your clients remain happy, or at least satisfied that you did your best for them, regardless of any results they receive.  If you were to rate yourself and your service personally, what would you give yourself?  Focus on improving your client education process with more attention on client relations and satisfaction to get the highest marks before, during and after the representation!

Disclaimer:  Interpretations of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct (ethics rules) and their applicability in this blog post are informal opinions issued pursuant to Bar Rule 4-401.  They are the personal opinions of the Assistant General Counsel co-author, and are neither a defense to any complaint nor binding on the State Disciplinary Board, the Supreme Court of Georgia or the State Bar of Georgia.

– Natalie & Bill

Meet Bill Cobb, Georgia Practice Advisor’s New Co-Author

Bill is an Assistant General Counsel at the State Bar.  He graduated from Duke University in 1970 with a B.A. in Zoology, and earned his law degree from Emory University in 1973.  At the Office of the General Counsel, he screens and prosecutes ethics complaints, is part of the Ethics Hot-Line service rotation (404-527-8741), and is a frequent CLE speaker, with a focus on the intersection of technology and ethics.

Before joining the Office of the General Counsel, Bill’s practice was principally civil litigation, with an emphasis on complex cases but no subject matter specialty.  He represented both sides, but more plaintiffs than defendants.  For his first 11 years as a lawyer, Bill worked for Georgia Legal Service Program in various capacities, the last 4 years as its Director of Litigation.  In addition to law practice, supervision and management, in the early 1980s he implemented GLSP’s first computer network.

After GLSP, Bill practiced exclusively in small firms with no more than 4 or 5 lawyers. In 2000, he and his wife, Ayres Gardner, formed Cobb & Gardner LLP in Decatur, and Bill took the firm “virtual” in 2010.  He joined the Office of the General Counsel in 2012.

Welcome, Bill!

State Bar Member Benefits

We’ve had you waiting long enough.  Sorry about that.  We were away attending Bar meetings and the like.  But, we are back, and we want to give you a rundown of the Bar’s member benefits, especially those that folks often tell us they didn’t know we had.

1) Law Practice business and technology consulting – Members can take advantage of free consulting sessions at the State Bar Headquarters and over the Law Practice Management (LPM) Helpline.  If you’d prefer to have a staff member/consultant from the Bar visit your office to check on how you’re doing, this service is a low-cost option and is charged based on the number of attorneys in the office.  The starting rates are $37.50 per hour for solos and $62.50 per hour for firms with 2 to 4 attorneys.  Just give LPM a call at 404-527-8772 to get going.

2) Free Ethics advice – If you ever have a question about whether or not you should or can do something in your practice; or if you need to know that you are not going to violate any Bar rules with something you’re contemplating, then make your first call -or email- go to the Office of General Counsel’s Ethics Hotline.  The number is 404-527-8741 or 800-334-6865  Ext. 8741, and you’ll be able to speak to a staff attorney about any ethics or ethics-related concerns you have.  Because the service is made available to Bar members only, you will need to provide your Bar number, but this information isn’t tracked by your number in any way for other purposes.  This service is one of our greatest member benefits, and you should use it before doing anything  in your practice that seems questionable to you.  The advice isn’t binding, but it’s well worth it to know you are practicing ethically.

3) Practice Management Resources for check out – The Resource Library of LPM has over 1,400 items available for checkout to Bar members, current law students and law office staff.  3 items can be checked out at a time and kept for 2 weeks.  You can find the link to the online checkout system at http://www.gabar.org/committeesprogramssections/programs/lpm/library/index.cfm.  Coming Soon! –  A New Online Checkout System

4) Free Fastcase online legal research service – If you are a Georgia Bar member and haven’t heard of Fastcase, where have you been?  The Bar offers free online legal research service with full access to all State and Federal case law.  The system uses advance search and data relevancy techniques to ensure you’re accessing the very latest and most accurate legal information.  Plus, the LPM staff provides training on the service every month.  Just look for sessions on the Bar’s event calendar from the main Bar website.

5) Membership Management online including checking CLE credits – Speaking of the main Bar’s website.  It’s a treasure trove!  The least you can learn to do on the site, however, is to maintain your membership information.  You can provide address and other contact updates via your member login and also submit Ethics questions (see #2 above – this is where you sumbit questions via email instead of calling in).  Check out the area to make sure your information on file with the Bar is up to date.

6) Dedicated Health Insurance Exchange – With all of the new health insurance changes going on nationally, the Bar wanted to ensure our members were being afforded the best options.  So, via our Bar-recommended broker, Member Benefits, Inc., (formerly BPC Financial), we now provide a dedicated health insurance exchange for Bar members, their families and their staff.  Check out coverage options and get quotes from our private insurance exchange at http://www.gabar.org/attorneyresources/health_exchange.cfm.

Okay, this is definitely not the complete list.  We want to give you a chance to digest these, and we’ll be back with more in our next post.  Just keep in mind that the Bar makes excellent use of your Bar dues in delivering top-notch member benefits, and if you have any questions about any of the Bar’s programs or services, please give us a call or send us an email!

Natalie & Tina

Winter Solo and Small Firm CLE is Here!

Don’t forget that you can get 6 hours of CLE including 1 hour of Professionalism and 1 hour of Ethics at the Winter Solo and Small Firm CLE this Friday, February 15, 2013.  See the program line up and register at http://www.iclega.org/programs/8164.html.
The CLE is live at the State Bar Headquarters in Atlanta and being broadcast via teleconference at the Bar’s South Georgia Office in Tifton.
We hope to see you there!
Natalie & Tina

November 1st – A Special Day for Georgia Solo and Small Firms

No, it’s not just the first day of the month leading up to Election Day, Thanksgiving, or even the day you plan how to get rid of all that leftover Halloween candy.  It’s the date for the Fall Solo and Small Firm CLE at the State Bar Headquarters.  You don’t want to miss this one!    In fact, go ahead and sign up here – http://www.iclega.org/programs/8071.html.

The line up includes a panel discussion on law office staffing issues; a review of some of the cool stuff that the Bar has for solos and small firms; tips on how to be more productive; an overview of pro bono resources and tips; a discussion on ways to deliver services online; and even how to stay safe in the cloud.  With so many pertinent topics, you can bet there will be a lot to take back to your office.

If you have any questions about this CLE or any of the upcoming quarterly CLEs for solos and small firms, just let us know.  Also, go ahead and mark your calendars for the Winter and Spring sessions on February 15, 2013 and April 26, 2013.

See you on November 1st!

Natalie