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5 Professional Responsibility Traps for Young Attorneys

By Andrew Lu | Last updated on

So you decided to start your own firm.

You got your practice areas set, a name for your law firm, and you might even have a website.

But before you jump in and start doing legal work, it's probably a good idea to brush up on the rules of professional responsibility. It could end up saving you a lot of heartache -- and possibly your bar card.

You probably haven't even thought about the rules of professional responsibility since you took the bar exam. But if you don't know the rules, you could get stung even before you take on your first case. Here are five professional responsibility rules every young attorney should know, as aggregated by the ABA Journal.

  1. Solicitation. You can't just go out and grab clients. For example, lawyers generally can't hang around outside the emergency rooms and grab injured clients as they leave the door. There may also be strict rules on television, radio, and prints ads in your jurisdiction.
  2. Conflicts of Interest. Before taking on that client, make sure there are no conflicts of interest. Conflicts can include conflicts between an old client and a new client and conflicts between two new clients. For example, if you represent a married couple in an estate planning matter, you may have to divulge a possible conflict to the couple.
  3. Creating the Client Relationship. You may not know it, but a lawyer-client relationship may already be formed. Be careful when you talk to potential clients. If you don't want to take on a case, make sure this is explicit to the potential client. Otherwise, all the demands of an attorney-client relationship may be formed, and you could be found liable if for doing no work or taking on a conflicting matter.
  4. Billing Arrangement. Make sure you have a written fee agreement. If you don't, you could get in trouble when you try to collect. It's good standard practice to discuss upfront with your client how you will be paid and for what work you will be paid.
  5. Commingling. Just because you receive a retainer payment, this does not necessarily mean you can deposit it into your bank account. Oftentimes, you may be required to maintain a separate bank account for your client's funds.

A lawyer's professional responsibility requirements should not be overlooked. Even if you think you're ready to take on clients and know the substantive law cold, you should brush up on professional responsibilities before taking on your first client.

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