f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

September 3, 2008

do you take too many cases?

Filed under: lawyer news or ethics — David Giacalone @ 12:02 pm

. . . . Over the years, we’ve often talked about lawyers who accept more work than they can competently handle — resulting in poorly served clients and a failure to live up to our professional standards of diligence (see Rule 1.3 Diligence, ABA Model Rules of Professional Responsibility).  Today, the ABA Journal News site gives us an extreme example in the article “An Overwhelmed Lawyer Leads to Md. Suspension for Lemon-Law Founders” (September 3, 2008). And see “Top K&S lawyers draw suspension: Name partners at ‘lemon law’ firm faulted for supervision of Md. office” (The Maryland Daily Record, Sept. 2, 2008).

The ABA Journal reports that “The founders of Pennsylvania-based Kimmel & Silverman, the “1-800-Lemon-Law” firm, have been suspended from legal privileges in Maryland for failing to supervise a lawyer there [who was] unable to keep up with an overwhelming caseload.”

The Daily Record article summarizes:

“The grievance charges against Kimmel and Silverman stem from the dismissal of nearly four dozen of the firm’s cases in 2005 when its only Maryland attorney, Robyn Glassman-Katz, fell behind in answering discovery requests. Glassman-Katz, who was disbarred by consent last year, has testified that Kimmel & Silverman demanded that she carry a staggering workload and did not give her enough help managing it.”

According to the state bar counsel’s office, the lawyers had unrealistic expectations for the firm’s Maryland lawyer, Robyn Glassman-Katz, requiring her to file 10 lawsuits a week at first and later 15 a week. Two dissenting judges said the punishment is not harsh enough.  The f/k/a Gang agrees — acting quickly to minimize losses once K&S “became aware of the extent of the backlog” is simply good business tactics and the least we should expect of a firm whose policies created the mess. [update (Sept. 4, 2008): Bob Ambrogi is satisfied with the discipline imposed.] It is only overwhelming greed that could cause K&S to structure their business in this way and put such pressure on one of their attorneys.

A lack of diligence or competence can at times be caused sloth, but greed  — on the part of profit-minded partners and future-oriented associates — is most often the culprit.

My main point today, however, is that taking on excessive workloads hurts clients (and the lives of lawyers) long before things get as bad as this Maryland case. Unfortunately, the lawyer discipline system ignores the less extreme situations and law firms everywhere, and of all sizes, take all the profitable-looking work that comes in the door or over the internet.

Our first month online (under the name ethicalEsq), we wrote “Sorry, it’s not just a few bad apples” (June 16, 2003), in which we asserted:

  1. We need to put the diligence back into the J.D. And, we need to recognize that the problem is not with only a tiny part of the profession, but includes a significant portion of lawyers who serve the average Joe and Jane Client.” And
  2. Until bar counsel and bar organizations treat everyday diligence as an important part of law practice and legal ethics, nothing much is likely to change.

The post ended with this question: “When was the last time your law firm turned away a client because it was too busy to give adequate service within a reasonable time span?” That’s a pretty good way to end this one, too.

If you want more, see “Too many assigned counsel just don’t give a damn” (Feb. 3, 2004); and “Diligent Defender Standards should apply to all firms” (July, 19, 2003).

the old scarecrow
seems busy

the lazy dog
barks lying down…
plum trees in bloom

the second one
doesn’t satisfy their greed…
New Year’s celebrations

…….. by Kobayashi Issa
– translated by David G. Lanoue

afterwords (6 PM): The new issue of The Complete Lawyer is just out, and its “focus” topic is “The Brave New World of Associates” (Vol. 4 No. 5, Aug-Sept 2008).  As Carolyn Elephant at Legal Blog Watch said today, “The issue includes at least a dozen articles on topics like professional development and finding meaning in law firm work, and even an article that I authored, entitled ‘Solos Know Strategies Associates Need To Learn‘.”  No matter what size firm they join, I hope find a professional home that knows the meaning of diligence and putting client interest above getting filthy rich.

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