In my lectures, I am often asked about how to properly divide a settlement check made payable to both the client and an attorney where there will be a division of that check. The inquiring attorneys are often surprised that the procedure they have used for decades is not technically correct.
Differing interests between a lawyer and a client are defined as “every interest that will adversely affect either the judgment or the loyalty of a lawyer to a client, whether it be a conflicting, inconsistent, diverse, or other interest.” (RPC 1.0 (f))
I recently gave a lecture where I was discussing retainers, legal fees, and escrow. It became clear that there’s some confusion over advanced legal fees paid to a lawyer.
A general retainer is a retainer paid to a lawyer for unspecified future services and for the lawyer to be available to the client in the future. For example, this might be used to engage a lawyer on a monthly or yearly retainer to be available for representation or to give the client legal advice as issues arise. Under this type of retainer, the fee paid is not an advance fee but is deemed earned immediately upon receipt. See NYSBA Opinion 570.
Recently, CNN published an article focusing on alcohol usage in the legal profession, authored by Patrick Krill Esq., the lead author of an important study that appeared in the Journal of Addiction Medicine. Mr. Krill is an attorney, board certified alcohol and drug counselor who is the director of the Legal Professionals Program at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.
To every client I counsel and in every lecture I give, I try to emphasize the importance of using a written retainer agreement or retainer letter in connection with every representation undertaken. The reason: it is the simplest and most effective means by which attorneys can support their legal fees, avoid misunderstandings with clients, and defend themselves from certain grievances and malpractice actions.
The Board of Law Examiners (Board) has the authority to bring charges against a test taker (applicant) for any violation of their rules (22 NYCRR 6000). The violation can be based upon observation by a proctor, a report from exam security, a report by another test taker, or by computer detection software. They do not bring charges lightly, but when they do, it is usually a serious situation.
As all lawyers should be aware, if you hold escrow, you do so at your own peril. A simple mistake that results in a returned escrow check automatically results in a notice to the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection and a referral to the appropriate Grievance Committee. The Grievance Committee will open a complaint, audit your account, and examine your office banking records for the six months prior to the issuance of the check. This is extremely time-consuming and can reveal small errors that could become big problems.
Several bar organizations are supporting the effort of a suspended Long Island attorney to challenge in the state’s highest court what he describes as the overly strict approach of the Appellate Division, Second Department, to enforcing disciplinary rules governing attorney escrow accounts.
A Second Department panel suspended Peter J. Galasso of Galasso, Langione, Catterson & LoFrumento in Garden City for what it called his failure to exercise “appropriate vigilance over his firm’s bank accounts” from which the firm’s bookkeeper—Mr. Galasso’s brother Anthony—embezzled $4 million in client funds (NYLJ, Feb. 27). Peter Galasso cooperated with the prosecution of his brother, who is now in prison.
Mr. Galasso’s suspension was to begin on March 21, but on March 19, Court of Appeals Judge Victoria A. Graffeo (See Profile) stayed the suspension pending determination of Mr. Galasso’s motion for leave to appeal. The Grievance Committee for the Ninth Judicial District is due to file a response by April 2.
Continue reading “Bars Rally Around Suspended Attorney”
Section 90 of the Judiciary law states that the Appellate Divisions must “be satisfied” that a candidate for admission possesses the requisite character and fitness to join our profession. This is quite a vague standard; attempting to quantify an equally vague character based value.
It is simple for the Committees to find someone questionable or unfit to practice law. Indicators of dishonesty, self dealing, disrespect for the law and the like will trigger deeper levels of review and/or rejection. But how can you prove your actual fitness?
Of course, the absence of the indicators listed above is paramount. Yet, there are other methods you should know. For example, if there is an arrest in your past, explain it in detail and honestly. Take full responsibility. Show remorse, and if possible, show what you have done to address your behavior or how you given back to the community you may have harmed.
Just keep in mind that a well crafted complete application for admission must “satisfy” the Committees upon initial review. Any serious questions that remain will trigger a hearing; which will trigger, at minimum, a lengthy delay, substantial legal fees, etc.
The moral here? Make sure you submit an application for admission that answers any and all potential questions that it may raise as to your fitness to practice. If you are not certain, discuss the situation with competent counsel before filing.
The reality is that in New York a criminal record is not a bar to admission. Indeed, a criminal charge that would get a lawyer disbarred may not keep a bar applicant from being admitted. The real test is – what was the character of the crime and how did the applicant grow or change subsequent to engaging in that crime?
Our office was able to get an applicant admitted to practice in New York despite having been imprisoned on a felony conviction for a drug based crime that involved the use of a hand gun. A crime of this nature (drugs, guns, and the gross disregard for the safety of others), would ordinarily cause an applicant to be rejected out of hand. However, in this case we were able to demonstrate that the applicant had done a 180 degree turnaround from the time of his conviction.
The Character Committee decided that we were able to prove, despite the applicant’s past conduct, that the applicant possessed the requisite level of fitness to be admitted at the time of the Character Committee review.
So, can you get admitted with a criminal record? The answer is “possibly.” Where the acts are simple, isolated and prior to law school, there is a good chance. Where the conviction is for fraud, theft, or other acts of dishonesty; or for multiple crimes or crimes that show a clear disrespect for the law and the rights and welfare of other people, it is a tougher hurdle. But, it can be done with the right amount of mitigation, acceptance of responsibility, and making sure you take the correct approach when filling out your application for admission and when you appear before the Character Committee.