Attorneys have heavy responsibilities. They have a duty to be competent and diligent and to always act in the best interests of their clients. Attorneys who fail to live up to these standards may be subject to professional discipline. When the ethical missteps of attorneys harm their clients, Chicago legal malpractice lawsuits may result. The seasoned attorneys at the Clinton Law Firm are dedicated to promoting high ethical standards and holding our colleagues accountable for ethical lapses.Ethical Violations and Malpractice Suits
The Illinois Supreme Court described the duty attorneys owe to their clients quite succinctly in 1870: “Where a person adopts the profession of the law, if he assumes to exercise the duties in behalf of another, for hire and reward, he must be held to employ in his undertaking, a reasonable degree of care and skill.” That is a succinct statement of the duty of care owed by each Illinois lawyer to his or her client. Every lawyer should understand that he or she is a professional and that, as a professional, you have a higher duty to your client than a typical vendor does to his client.
Lawyers are also subject to the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct. These rules govern the conduct of lawyers and require them to be competent, to make certain disclosures involving legal fees to clients, to keep client confidences secret and to tell the truth to third parties and to courts. Violations of these rules may subject lawyers to professional discipline by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Discipline Commission (ARDC) but may not always be grounds for a Chicago legal malpractice lawsuit. The requirement that the plaintiff demonstrate some provable economic damage as a result of the lawyer’s breach of the duty of care. Understand also that a violation of one of the Rules of Professional Conduct may not amount to malpractice if the client does not suffer economic damages.
When such economic damages can be proved to result from a lawyer’s violation of these rules, a legal malpractice lawsuit attorney in Chicago has a strong basis for recovering compensation for the client. Much in the same way that violating a traffic law can create a presumption that a driver’s negligence caused a car accident, violations of ethical rules that bear a causal connection to the harm suffered by a client create a strong presumption that the defendant attorney acted outside the reasonable bounds of the profession.Defending Lawyers Accused of Ethical Breaches
The Clinton Law Firm has substantial experience in defending lawyers from claims that they breached the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct. Clinton Law lawyers have represented numerous attorneys who have received inquiries from the ARDC.The ARDC Process
The ARDC receives thousands of letters from dissatisfied clients. The client writes to the ARDC and explains the nature of his grievance. The ARDC then forwards that letter to the attorney and requests that the attorney file a response to the client’s letter. Most client letters are poorly written and confusing. The attorney’s job is to respond to the letter in timely fashion. Certain areas of practice will generate more ARDC letters than others. For example, a lawyer who handles family law matters will almost certainly receive one or two letters each year, usually in matters where the client was displeased with the outcome.Responding to the ARDC Grievance Letter
Ed Clinton, Jr. and the Clinton Law Firm have assisted lawyers in responding to ARDC grievances. Our goal in every matter is to write to the ARDC, respond to the grievance and politely convince the ARDC that they should close their file on this matter.
There are several basic guidelines that everyone should follow in any communication to the ARDC or to the client:
- Tell the truth – your response should be factual and truthful.
- Attach relevant documentation – if you have a document that supports your defense you should provide it to the ARDC. One key document is an engagement letter or retainer contract that sets the basic ground rules of the attorney-client relationship
- If the client has prepared a narrative that is confusing or not in chronological order, you should respond and politely correct the factual errors of the client. Events happen in time. The ARDC will become confused if your response is not in chronological order.
- Do not attack the client or former client. This means your response should be factual and should avoid all adjectives and adverbs. If you attack the client or show anger, the ARDC will worry that maybe there might be something to the grievance. If the client says you are a “scumbag” and a “fraud” you should “respectfully disagree.” Do not say anything bad about the client’s credibility even if the client is lying. Use the facts to show that the client’s view of events is in error.
- Again, if you made a mistake you should own up to it and explain what happened. Make sure that your response is truthful. Remember that no one is perfect and that we all make mistakes. Most mistakes do not harm or prejudice the client. Indeed, owning up to a mistake makes you credible to the ARDC.
- If you feel even the slightest bit of anger as you begin your response, call the Clinton Law Firm. We can help you respond to the grievance and we have an advantage in that we are more objective than you are. We know that clients are frustrating and difficult. If they were perfect people, they would not need lawyers. We understand this. We also understand that anger is dangerous to the lawyer because an angry lawyer can do something foolish in responding to a client, such as disclose a confidence or breach an ethical duty.
There are a number of ways to avoid having clients file grievances with the ARDC.
- Have a well-written engagement letter that explains the terms of the relationship to the client including how the client will be charged and what Is expected of the client.
- Keep the client informed – preferably in writing – about developments in his case. If something goes poorly, tell the client. If it goes well, tell the client. Call the client often, but write to confirm conversations.
- Offer candid and cautious estimates and do not offer predictions. If you tell the client that she will win her case, you may live to regret that prediction.
- Don’t forget to nag clients who are slow in producing documents or complying with court orders. The more you nag, the better. When you remind clients to do their part of the work, be polite but firm.
- Do not respond to online reviews written by unhappy clients. To get a nasty review on Google is a right of passage, not a mark on your career. Do not give any substantive response. Numerous lawyers have been disciplined for responding to an online review and inadvertently disclosing a confidence or prejudicing the client.
- Do not attack the character of opposing attorneys – remember that they are doing their job and representing a client. You may need their goodwill at some point.
- If you get into trouble, don’t hesitate to call us. We can help you. We have walked in your shoes and have confronted many difficult situations in our careers. We will do our best to help you. We are dedicated and capable ethics attorneys.
The Clinton Law Firm has been a fixture of the Chicago legal community for two decades. We take our ethical obligations very seriously and hold ourselves to the highest standards of excellence in legal practice. We earnestly believe that our colleagues should do the same and advocate for individuals and businesses harmed by the ethical transgressions of other attorneys. To schedule a consultation and discuss your case with a knowledgeable Chicago business law attorney, call us at 312.357.1515 or contact us online today.