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7 Deadly Sins Committed by New Lawyers

By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 26, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Let's admit it, we have all sinned under the law.

May heaven have mercy on those of us who commit a big sin. We're talking about the sins of malpractice and ethics violations. We won't even go there.

Let's just talk about five lesser evils that often ensnare new lawyers. We're going to fix those before they turn into the two bigger sins.

1. Failure to Communicate

If you missed the classic scene from Cool Hand Luke, it's a lesson in the failure to communicate. Paul Newman takes a crack on the head from an angry overlord who says, "What we've got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach."

Lawyers often commit the sin of failing to communicate with clients. New lawyers should learn early to keep clients informed: return messages promptly; give status reports often; never ignore a client's request for information. It will turn into a State Bar complaint if you get into the habit of failing to communicate.

2. Failure to Keep Track of Time

It seems counterintuitive that anybody who gets paid on an hourly basis would fail to keep track of billable time. But new lawyers do it all the relative time.

Perhaps it's because they fear the real time they spend on a task is more time than they should be billing. Understood, but that billable time really belongs to your employer so don't cheat the boss by failing to keep track of your time.

3. Fear of Asking Questions

After years of learning in the Socractic method, new attorneys should know the value of asking questions. But far too many are afraid to ask for direction on the job.

They are like the man who won't ask for directions in a car because he is too proud to admit he is lost. Don't be that guy.

4. Failure to Proofread

In an age when computers do almost everything for us, it's easy for new attorneys to rely on a word processing program to proofread their documents. Just don't trust your career to a software program.

When your supervisor, a client, or a court reads your mistakes, who is going to get the brunt of it? Microsoft?

5. Accounting Mistakes

The line between innocent and an unforgivable mistake here should be as clear as the difference between a typo and a fraudulent entry. New lawyers make typos in billing and expense entries, and they can be forgiven if they fix them promptly.

But sending a padded bill to a client, commingling client funds, or entering a false item on a bank account, well, let's just say there is a hell on Earth and forgiveness may not come until the afterlife.

Any one of these five sins, taken alone and not habitually repeated, can be pardoned. The lesson for the penitent is, repent before they turn into the two deadliest sins of malpractice or an ethics violation.

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