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Professional ethics was the topic of the first of an intended calendar of dinner seminars for young minority lawyers under the aegis of the newly formed Joint Bar Association. The initial session was held last week in the dining room of Shearman & Sterling. The confederated attorney group includes the Puerto Rican Bar Association, the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, the Hispanic National Bar Association and the Asian-American Bar Association. “We all want to improve our profile by working together, sharing expenses and expertise,” said James Castro-Blanco, manager of professional development and training at Shearman and a former president of the Puerto Rican bar group. “Many of our respective members also contribute to committees of the [major] bar organizations,” he said. “By coming together as we now have, we’re more easily able to move into the mainstream.” Wednesday’s ethics seminar was led by Samuel McClendon, an associate dean of Howard Law School in Washington, D.C. Panelists were Christopher Chan, president of the Asian-American bar; Natalie Gomez-Velez, counsel to New York State Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman; and Castro-Blanco. After a presentation on handling client funds, McClendon led a discussion that took the audience of about 200 through the ethical minefield of a fictive case involving a $50,000 cash retainer plunked down by the niece of a dotty rich lady, suspicious matters of insurance and inheritance claims, and potentially ineffective opposing counsel. On the matter of the retainer, Chan, a veteran criminal defense attorney, was resolute. “In my business, I see a lot of cash. Mostly 20-dollar bills,” he said. “The first thing you do is you have your paralegal go down to the bank and turn that cash into a check.” Castro-Blanco, a former assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern district, agreed. He added, “I might go along with the paralegal to make sure he didn’t abscond with the funds.” As part of the fictive case, the attorney retained was by pure chance put into social contact with opposing counsel at a cocktail party, a lawyer who after several drinks began chatting about the matter with whomever would listen. Should the attorney eavesdrop, incognito? “That would be tempting,” said Gomez-Velez. “I don’t think there’s anything preventing it, but would it be right? I don’t think so. I’ve got to be straight up.” Chan allowed that he would consider temptation. “Maybe I’d put on my Chinese accent,” he said. “They’d think I was part of the salad.” Castro-Blanco offered something more practical. “I’d take out a pen and paper and make a note of everybody the lawyer was talking to,” he said. “That should give me a good witness list. Then I’d call everybody the next day.” On the fundamental question of whether lawyers should involve themselves in dubious cases, even ones that pay in impressive piles of unmarked currency, McClendon and the panelists agreed with Chan’s assessment: “Look, we’re lawyers. We can always make money.”

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