Thanks to David Giacalone for alerting readers to another legal ethics weblog, Ben Cowgill’s Legal Ethics Blog. Cowgill points out that his legal ethics blog is third on the Internet, joining David’s f/k/a ethical esq? and The Legal Ethics Forum. Actually, that’s not quite right. Because here at MyShingle, we’ve been blogging about legal ethics and malpractice issues for solo and small firm lawyers since our inception in December 2002 (one day, our archives will reappear so we can prove it!), covering topics like whether the bar disparately targets solo and small firm lawyers for discipline, ways to avoid the plight of other attorneys who became the subject of grievances and whether certain disciplinary actions were warranted.
Of course, I’m no expert on legal ethics – so I welcome the voices of those who know far more about ethics than I do. At the same time, the proliferation of separate sites devoted to legal ethics brings to mind one of my peeves about the way that we lawyers approach legal ethics, starting in law school. Because instead of integrating ethical discussion into each subject matter we teach, we ghettoize it, relegating it to a separate bar exam topic with the MPRE (multiple choice no less!) and teaching it separately as a course and as CLE. Even the bar’s Law Practice Management offices are segregated from the ethics office.
Sure, I aspire to carry out my professional obligations and all those noble goals that our Code of Professional Responsibility set out. But as a real life practicing attorney, what I want to do most of all is serve my clients as best as I’m able and stay out of trouble. We solo and small firm attorneys are walking hypotheticals, living ethics questions every time we meet a client, every time we embark on a marketing campaign. For example, can I market my clout to clients – or does that constitute an impermissible guarantee of results? Can bankruptcy attorneys recommend that our clients file for bankruptcy now before pending legislation makes it more costly or complicated? Or are we conflicted from that advice because when bankruptcy is more expensive, the client may not be able to afford our service. Can estates attorneys use the recent Schiavo story to sell clients on the notion of living wills and advance directives – or is that an undignified practice that takes advantage of others’ tragedy? Can we take a client who we know can’t afford to pay and offer less than first rate service that we’d extend to one with more resources? Or is the client better off without representation at all? More and more, large firms are hiring general counsel, whose goals, among others, is to
rationalize away – ah, no – address conflicts of interest and other ethical questions. All we solos have is bar counsel to call – and as I’ve discovered, some offices are responsive while others, not at all. Unfortunate that the same offices that are all too eager to go after lawyers for what are often just innocent or unintended mistakes aren’t there to provide guidance to lawyer to begin with. So it’s my hope that all of these new ethics sites can serve as a substitute, so that we solos and small firms can finally start getting what’s most valuable to us about legal ethics: not discussion or debate, and certainly not more discipline, but just some really good answers.