Print Page   |   Contact Us   |   Sign In   |   Register

Site Search
Professionalism Committee
Group HomeGroup Home Blog Home Group Blogs
A blog by members of the Wake County Bar Association/Tenth Judicial District Bar's Professionalism Committee members.

 

Search all posts for:   

 

Top tags: ethics  Exit Planning  Mediation  admissibility  Advocacy  appeal  Competence  corporate appearance  Law  Lawyer  mediator  Professionalism  professionalism stress depression anxiety mental h 

Lawyer Professionalism in Wake County: An Historical Perspective

Posted By Colleen Glatfelter, Friday, September 13, 2013
By Mark Finkelstein, Partner, Smith Moore Leatherwood LLP
 

A key to professionalism is simply considering the issue of professionalism early and often. Half the professionalism battle is won when we think about professionalism obligations before we act. In the fast paced world of email, that is easier said than done; but don’t fool yourself into thinking it has ever been easy.

Lawyers in their first 25 years of practice often lionize lawyers in their second 25 years of practice. Since the dawn of the licensed practice of law, the "good old days” have seemingly always been 25 years ago. Despite the wave of new lawyers, I do not believe new lawyers in Wake County are appreciably less professional today than 25 years ago. Lack of professionalism does not necessarily flow from youth any more than professionalism necessarily comes with age. If the Bar is any less professional today than in the past it is a surfeit of potential protégés and a deficit of quality mentors that is the cause.

Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Don Stephens tried a case in Halifax County with a younger lawyer in the Attorney General’s office long ago against Wade and Roger Smith. It was a high profile case, emotions were high and both sides were staying in the same hotel. Roger Smith discovered that his car was physically disabled – engine wires were pulled -- in the hotel parking lot by Judge Stephens’ protégé. To Judge Stephens’s bewilderment, a vigorous altercation, rather than mediation, ensued.

Frankly, I cannot see such a situation occurring today. The events after that day of trial long ago do, however, offer a teachable moment.

Stories teach lessons. Among the lessons to be found in old stories like this one are:

(1) Our aspirations of professionalism are not any more or less important or necessary than they were in those "Good Old Days;”

(2) To paraphrase the salesperson’s mantra of "sell something to someone soon”: Exercise your professionalism and seek to mentor someone in something you know soon. We desperately need more professionalism focused mentorship efforts because we have so many more young lawyers who may be able to learn from the experiences we can share.

We the practicing bar are the face and hands of professionalism. Helping people is the heart of our profession. Helping each other when we can is professionalism in action.


This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

Turning Out the Lights Part Two: To Sell or Not to Sell

Posted By Colleen Glatfelter, Friday, August 16, 2013

By Brooke Ottesen and Deanna Brocker, The Brocker Law Firm, P.A.

As we suggested in part one of this series, exit planning is a hot topic, and the end of a legal career is a certainty for all who practice the law. In spite of that, many attorneys reach that point without considering and preparing a succession plan. The American Bar Association estimates a vast majority of lawyers, particularly solo practitioners, do not have a plan in place. Likely, this is because it takes time and commitment which can be challenging when running a busy law practice. However, attorneys who develop a plan – and do it early – are in a better position to protect their clients, employees, family and reputation. Exit strategies encompass any one of a number of different scenarios including: (1) selling the law practice; (2) internally transitioning the law practice to another attorney in the firm; or (3) winding down and closing the doors of the practice.

Selling a Law Practice

The current version of Rule 1.17 of the Rules of Professional Conduct permits a lawyer or law firm to sell or purchase a law practice or area of law practice, including good will, if certain conditions are met. The Rule requires the selling attorney to discontinue the private practice of law, or the area of practice that has been sold,within a one-hundred (100) mile radius of the purchased practice.The Rule also requires that the seller’s entire practice, or an entire area of practice, be sold.In addition, written notice of the proposed sale must be sent to all clients who are currently represented by the seller and to all former clients whose files will be transferred to the purchaser.However, at its last quarterly meeting in July 2013, the Ethics Committee voted to adopt a proposed change to Rule 1.17 which would permit a lawyer to continue to work for the law practice as an employee after its sale. This would allow a senior selling attorney to remain in the practice during a transition period which would,in turn, create a more seamless transition for clients, staff, and the purchasing attorney. (See prior blog article, "Now You Can Retire…Or Not”).

Often the lawyer interested in selling his or her law practice already has qualified and interested buyers employed at the firm. Regarding the transition of a law practice to a current employee, 98 Formal Ethics Opinion 6 rules that the requirements for selling a practice set forth in Rule 1.17do not apply to the sale of a law practice to lawyers who are current employees of the firm.In addition, the law firm may continue to include in the firm name the name of a retired attorney who practiced with the firm up to the time of his retirement if that attorney has ceased the practice of law.

Aside from the multitudes of ethical considerations, it can be challenging to determine how to value and set a price for a law practice. Attorneys may have inaccurate perceptions that their practice has little or no real value; however, that is usually not the case. One way to ensure an objective valuation is to hire a business appraiser and/or a professional business broker. The consultant can assist in not only determining the value of the practice, but also providing knowledge of the process, marketing the practice, dealing with unqualified buyers, attracting qualified buyers, and negotiating a price once a qualified buyer is located.

Deciding to sell, understanding the ethics involved, and determining the value of a practice is really just the beginning. In part three of this series, we will provide a comprehensive checklist for selling a law practice.

Closing the Doors of a Law Practice

Closing, as opposed to selling, the law practice, involves different issues. The most important considerations are to start early, create and utilize a timeline and checklist, and update it often. The process should be implemented over a period of six months to one year at a minimum. In part three of this series, the checklist discussed above will also include a section on closing a law practice.

Contingency Plans

At this point, you may be thinking retirement is too far into the future to even consider selling or closing your law practice. However, at a minimum, it is important to plan for contingencies in the event of the unexpected. Advance designation of another lawyer to assist with client matters is critical when a temporary disability or emergency occurs. Lloyd Cohen is a solo practitioner and the author ofBeing Prepared: A Lawyer’s Guide for Dealing with Disability or Unexpected Events. Mr. Cohen’s own office experienced a short shutdown due to his sudden illness:

During my absence from the office, my manual is getting its first real-life test. The good news is that having a manual available has been a comfort that helped the office to continue to run smoothly. Those closest to me were able to check the physical and clerical aspects of the office. Lawyers with whom I’ve developed a rapport for such a contingency were notified. A lawyer was able to screen both the physical and electronic calendars for appointments, court appearances, and deadlines. Rescheduling client appointments far ahead of time was appreciated. Immediately directing e-mail to auto-reply "out due to illness” worked well. Bill-pay and money-transfer functions were attended to. Having my medical contacts and information organized was helpful. I found that keeping updated with the continuing evolution of technology and proliferation of passwords to be a challenge, but overall, client confidence was maintained and opposing counsels cooperated.

Lloyd D. Cohen,How My Emergency Plan Saved My Practice, GPSOLO, a publication of the American Bar Association, vol. 29, no. 4.

Mr. Cohen, in his manual, advocates safeguarding your practice with five practical steps: "Define, Enable, Empower, Keep, and Inform.” Even if you do not have time for the entire manual, his short article, "How My Emergency Plan Saved My Practice”, is worth the ten minute read and may be the spark to encourage you to create a plan so your clients and your practice aren’t left in the dark.

This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

Now You Can Retire…Or Not

Posted By Colleen Glatfelter, Tuesday, August 6, 2013

By Deanna Brocker, Principal, The Brocker Law Firm, P.A. 

At its last quarterly meeting in July 2013, the Ethics Committee voted to adopt a proposed change to Rule 1.17 Sale of a Law Practice, which would permit a lawyer to continue to work for the law practice as an employee after its sale. The current rule prohibits the selling attorney from engaging in the private practice of law for the same firm, except as an independent contractor. The concern raised by Mel Wright, the Executive Director of the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism, is that many senior lawyers would like to retire, but do not think they can afford to do so. Mr. Wright noted that he has seen dentists sell their practices to new dentists who are just starting out. The senior dentist agrees to stay on during a transitional period, introducing the new dentist to his patients and assisting in any way he can with the transition. The senior dentist can be paid for his services during this transition time as an employee (receiving benefits), and then can receive additional payments into retirement. The new dentist gets an established practice in exchange.

This symbiotic relationship seems like a win-win for everyone involved if expanded to law practices. The new lawyer gets a mentor and an introduction to an established client base, and the senior lawyer can help ensure his practice is transferred to a capable and qualified individual while still receiving income. And clients? Well perhaps they benefit the most by a smooth transition.

The proposed revised rule makes clear in the comment that the practice, once purchased, may retain the same firm name under certain conditions in Rule 7.5, but the seller’s retirement must be indicated on the letterhead or other communications as necessary to avoid misleading the public. If the seller becomes an employee of the firm in his or her "retirement,” then the letterhead and other communications must indicate in some fashion that the seller is no longer the owner. An "of counsel” designation by the seller’s name would be sufficient.

Bottom Line: this proposed rule gives attorneys more choices going into retirement. You gotta like that.


This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

Disconnect: A Matter of Professionalism and Respect

Posted By Colleen Glatfelter, Monday, July 22, 2013

By Douglas J. Brocker, Chair of the WCBA/Tenth JD Professionalism Committee, The Brocker Law Firm, P.A.  

Modern communication technology enables lawyers to accomplish things in a much more timely, efficient and effective manner in many instances. Utilized properly, digital communications also can assist a lawyer or law firm in reducing overhead and providing representation to clients more economically. E-mails and other electronic medium allow lawyers and law firms to operate in ways that would not have been imaginable less than a decade ago.

However, use of these relatively new communication mediums can become as addictive as some substances and their overuse can cause a myriad professional and personal problems and issues. As lawyers, we all have times where it seems that there is no possible way we can accomplish everything in the limited time given. It is during those times that we run the greatest risk of overusing or misusing electronic communications.

I am constantly reminded of the importance of disconnecting from them on occasion for both personal and professional reasons. One recent experience reinforced the importance of disconnecting. The Wake County Bar Association had the privilege of having one of the Fourth Circuit judges from North Carolina speak at a recent monthly luncheon. During a fascinating speech from one of the most interesting and accomplished persons in the State, I looked around the room and repeatedly saw fellow attorneys using their phones to read and respond to emails and texts, browse, among other things. I was hoping that our speaker was looking from a different perspective and did not observe what I saw.

I completely understand the temptation during a busy time to catch up on a few emails or deal with some other pressing matters. I'm confident that I have been guilty of doing so in the past. However, as a past president of the organization, I was dismayed that our esteemed speaker might be observing the same thing I was and believing that our local Bar members were not interested in her very insightful remarks.

We all have been involved in situations where we are talking or meeting with somebody in person and they interrupt the personal conversation to take a phone call or respond to an e-mail or text. When you are on the receiving end of this behavior, it unmistakably projects the impression that your discussions, and by extension you, are not important. Although that probably was not the intent, it leaves a very bad impression.

They are many important reasons, in my opinion, that all of us should disconnect at times. When attending a speech or in meeting with a client, witness or other person, in my opinion, it's simply a matter of professionalism and good form to turn off your own phone and focus on the matter at hand. If you are truly that busy, you should probably not attend or reschedule. In these types of situations, disconnect; it’s a matter of professionalism and respect.

This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

Turning Out the Lights Without Leaving Clients in the Dark

Posted By Colleen Glatfelter, Monday, July 1, 2013

By Brooke Ottesen,  Associate, The Brocker Law Firm, P.A.

Exit planning is a hot topic in North Carolina although we are certainly not the first state to tackle these issues. Keith Kapp, President of the North Carolina State Bar, called for the Bar to re-examine and improve our approach to both the beginning and the end of law practice. Despite this call to arms and recognition of a need for change in the legal profession, Warren Savage, a claims attorney with Lawyers Mutual, finds it surprising "how many lawyers avoid preparing for the inevitable end of their careers until after that end arrives at an unexpected time.” He says, "While legal careers will almost certainly end because of a career change, retirement, health, or death, a surprising number of lawyers reach that end without having considered and prepared for the recurring issues common to winding down a law practice.”[1] Therefore, exit planning appears to be both a big challenge for attorneys, as well as, an opportunity for improvement in the legal profession.

Exit strategies can encompass any one of a number of different scenarios:

(1) Winding down and closing the doors of the practice;

(2) Selling or merging the law practice; or

(3) Internally transitioning the law practice to another attorney in the firm.

Each strategy comes with its own challenges, and it takes time and commitment to successfully implement. Regardless of the road you choose, the key is to start early in developing your plan so your clients, your employees, and your family are protected.

Beginning in July and over the next few months, we will post a series of articles related to this issue. Each subsequent article will tackle a specific aspect of exit planning and succession such as practical checklists for winding down a practice, the ethics of turning out the lights, the sale or merger of a law practice, and expecting the unexpected. In the meantime, a great resource for attorneys interested in creating such a strategy is Turning out the Lights: Planning for Closing Your Law Practice, a publication of the North Carolina Bar Association. The Association published the procedural guidebook to help lawyers plan for untimely events that might necessitate the closing of a law practice. The publication is $27 and you can order online at http://www.ncbar.org/cle/bookstore/tol12.



[1] The Senior Lawyer Division of the NCBA Newsletter. "What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Retire,” Section Vol. 21, No. 2 (March 2013).

Tags:  Exit Planning 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 
Page 13 of 13
 |<   <<   <  8  |  9  |  10  |  11  |  12  |  13