Bars Rally Around Suspended Attorney

Andrew Keshner

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.
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SHAPING CLIENT EXPECTATIONS

Many lawyers say what they think a potential client wants to hear to get the retainer.  They figure they can ‘control’ the client after they get retained.  This practice, however, is risky and can come back to haunt you.  When you cannot deliver the result as promised, your client becomes dissatisfied; even if the result you obtain is actually a very good result.  Importantly, even if the client stays with you and you earn the retainer, his view of you will still be negative and will make it unlikely that he will refer others to you.

Instead, manage the client’s expectations right from the start.  Listen to what they want.  Sympathize with them and express your appreciation their goals.  Then, explain why their view of the case and their expectations are not reasonable (impossible, unlikely, not cost effective, etc.).  Give them a realistic range of potential outcomes right from the start where possible.  Most clients will accept your opinion; which in the final analysis is why they came to you.

Anecdotally, those potential clients who refuse to accept reason more likely than not will turn into nightmare clients who are not worth the retainer paid and are best avoided.

Encourage your clients to see their case rationally and accept reasonable expectations as to potential case outcome.  When the case resolves as expected, or better, the client walks away with a good feeling about you and your abilities.  A client satisfied with the result will be more likely to refer other clients to you.

What to do when your adversary is a $#%&??

There will be no reader ethics question and answer this month.  Hold your applause because I am going to vent.  Indeed, I will pose my own question (unlike the beauties I usually answer).

Question:  What guidance does the Code provide when litigating with an adversary who champions his client’s case to the point of obsession and behaves like a $#%&?

I tried a case recently which took on the trappings of a saloon fight in a Randolph Scott movie.  It began when settlement broke down and the case was sent out for assignment.  When I met my adversary he refused to shake hands because his client was watching and then refused to consent to a reasonable adjournment request.  Thereafter, he inconvenienced witnesses, moved for contempt of someone or something at least once each hour during the trial, and generally engaged in conduct which was, in my opinion, unprofessional.[1]  This got me thinking about civility and professionalism, so I looked to our Code of Professional Responsibility.  Here’s what I found:
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Unpayable Escrow Money

Sir:

I have been practicing for a long time.  A really long time.  I remember litigating against Abe Lincoln.  Let me tell you, good old “Honest Abe” may have been a great orator, but such lousy papers.  Anyway, most of my clients have now passed on and my entire practice consists of acting as conservator for 19 cats.  Recently, I looked at my escrow account and realized that there is a significant sum of money in there that I had been holding for an incompetent client who used to live in the neighborhood.  I have no idea if he is dead, institutionalized, or in Florida.  My question is; does a Ferrari look better in black or red?

Yours,                                                                  Atticus F.

Dear Atticus

Black.  However, there are certain ethics rules you might want to consider before you drive off into disbarment.  First, as you state that the money was being held for another person, you hold the money as a fiduciary.  The most basic, yet important, aspect of escrow is: it is not your money!  I’m sorry, but the fortuitous loss of your client does not make you his heir.  There are specific rules in place which control under these very circumstances; which is quite a coincidence as that is what this column is supposed to be about.

What are an attorney’s obligations where he or she holds money in escrow to which the client is unquestionably entitled to, yet the attorney is unable to locate that client?

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Are Ethics Necessary?

Sir:

I am a recently admitted attorney, and a very busy guy.  Quite frankly, I slept through my ethics course in law school.  I mean, that stuff won’t make you money, am I right?  Anyway, I took an ethics CLE course last week (only because I had to for re-registration), and the teacher said that there are other ways to get into trouble with your escrow account besides stealing or commingling.  As I do a lot of real estate and debt collection work, and I haven’t got a clue about escrow, I got a little concerned.  Could you please tell me what else I should avoid?  And if you don’t mind, make it snappy: like I said I’m a busy guy out to make money.

— Lloyd

Dear Lloyd

You letter was like a breath of fresh air.  Your plain spoken honesty as to your purpose for practicing law is bracing; although the betting is now ten to one for disbarment before next fall.

At any rate, your question could be helpful to all those lawyers who actually will be around awhile, so I put together a “snappy” top ten list of bad escrow thingies.  They are, in no particular order and completely anecdotal, as follows:

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