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The Ten Commandments of biblical significance call for leading a chaste life and receiving the ultimate reward of a heavenly afterlife. The Ten Commandments of professional responsibility and risk management call for sound management practices and receiving the ultimate reward of more business. At a seminar at the Connecticut Bar Association’s annual meeting, the role of Moses was played by Anthony E. Davis, a partner at New York’s Hinshaw & Culbertson, and a national expert on legal ethics. David P. Atkins, of Zeldes, Needle & Cooper in Bridgeport, and Christopher L. Brigham, of Hartford-based Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, also offered guidance on how to avoid run-ins with attorney discipline officials. Commandment I addressed a timely topic: lawyer defalcation. It states: “Thou shalt scrupulously and meticulously comply with all of the rules relating to the maintenance of client accounts, the handling of funds and property belonging to clients and third parties, and the maintenance of records.” “Segregate or regurgitate,” Atkins said of the need to keep client and office funds separate. “You can’t commingle. Keep absolute separate universes.” Engagement letters that “slap your client in the face” were covered by Commandment II: “Thou shalt obtain an engagement letter from all new clients.” Davis said any letter that mentions fees on the first page insults clients because it makes it seem as if the attorney only cares about money. Davis said there are no winners with Commandment III: “When taking on a new matter, whether for an existing or new client, thou shalt scrupulously comply with all ethical rules and fiduciary duties relating to actual and potential conflicts of interest.” Davis said, when it comes to representing clients with potentially competing interests, “if at the end of the day, one of the clients feel he or she got a raw deal in relation to the other client, they are going to sue you.” Technology can help attorneys abide by Commandment IV: “Thou shalt always keep the client fully and currently advised of the status of all matters and thou shalt return telephone voice mail messages and e-mail communications within 24 hours.” Davis said, “If clients pester you, it means you have too much work and you need to work on your client intake. If clients feel you are responsive and caring — they pay their bills, don’t sue you, come back for more work and refer you to others.” Breaking a client’s confidence is the genesis for Davis’ Commandment V: “Thou shalt diligently keep clients’ secrets and confidences.” E-mail and fax machines can cause a lawyer and client grief. “It is incredibly easy to use technology in a way that can cause serious injury to a client,” Davis warned.He deferred to Atkins on Commandment VI: “Thou shalt use non-engagement letters.” Atkins advised, “We’re not public transportation. We don’t have to take everybody on.” He warned lawyers to not make a person assume he or she has become a client just because a meeting took place and legal advice was given. “The only thing worse than being sued by a client is being sued by somebody who thinks they were a client,” Atkins added. Commandment VII might seem counterintuitive: “Thou shalt report all claims and incidents to the malpractice insurer (and not attempt to settle claims unilaterally).” Not giving timely notice to the insurer, Davis advised, can lead to coverage not being granted. “Even though it sounds funny, the claim person is there to help you,” he said. “The better your grievance is handled, the more likely you are to be successful in your malpractice defense.” Technology can be used to comply with Commandment VIII: “Thou shalt maintain complete and accurate calendar and docket information — using the firm’s computers and software.” Davis said almost a quarter of all grievance complaints are sparked by missed deadlines. “It’s a dreadful reflection on our profession. It’s completely unavoidable,” he said. Once a good computer case management program is up and running, grab the matches, Davis counseled. “Have a bonfire and burn the paper diaries. That will force you to enter the data into the computer,” he added. Make sure a client knows when the relationship is over, Davis posited in discussing Commandment IX: “Thou shalt remember that when a client becomes a former client is always determined by the mind of the client, not the attorney.” Davis said there is a clear need to send closing letters to clients, to avoid future conflicts of interest. Ethics rules are “different for current clients than former clients,” he said. “You can’t ever be adverse to a current client.” Commandment X — “Thou shalt not dabble in practice areas outside your normal area of competence” — may seem like a no-brainer, but is nonetheless commonly disregarded. Davis cited the story of a New York intellectual practice firm that handled a real estate transaction in a pinch for a major client, even though it had no experience in that area. “It cost the firm $24 million because they didn’t know what they were doing,” he proclaimed.

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