As a leader in your office and community, lawyers are required to serve with the highest ethics. But integrity and ethics should also play a lead role in how your practice serves clients and treats team members every day. And let’s not leave out how clients and team members should be held to certain standards themselves.
Placing dual values of integrity and ethics at the center of your practice extends these values way past the work you and your colleagues perform. Here are some examples of how certain offices go above and beyond to exceed what is expected.
Client confidentiality. We all know the rules. But does that include conversations between attorneys that may take place while waiting in line at a coffee shop? What about a cell phone conversation when a paralegal is on a train? Make sure the entire team understands that they have a moral duty to protect their client’s information. And that includes family members.
Document protection. As an attorney you are required to maintain the standards of technology and secure all client information. If vendors and visitors to your office are able to see a computer monitor in the office, they may see confidential information. Be mindful of documents left on desks, monitors that are not in screen saver mode and any materials that might be easily seen.
Conflicts of interest. If multiple members of a family gearing up for an estate battle contact you, do you have an ethical responsibility to disclose conversations with other family members, even if you have not been retained and no formal client-attorney privilege has been established? Check with your state’s bar association if you are not sure.
What if an associate has done something that you know is wrong? Here’s where integrity distinguishes practices. It’s not uncommon for humans to make mistakes. But how you handle the mistake demonstrates the firm’s commitment to integrity as a core value. Do you fire the associate? Unless it’s egregious error, probably not. First, you solve the problem. And you don’t bill your client for it. Then you need to have a conversation with the client. No, it won’t be a pleasant conversation but it will be necessary. If the client finds out after the fact that you did not disclose the problem and the correction, you will have a far bigger problem: the loss of trust and respect.