About 100 Connecticut lawyers underwent a “scared straight” program on ethics hosted by the Connecticut Bar Association at its annual meeting on Monday, June 16.
This years’ annual CBA meeting was rebranded this year as the Connecticut Legal Conference, and featured a luncheon and several networking opportunities, including a cocktail hour. The event provided enhanced educational programs, including over 50 CLE seminars.
During one presentation called “The Competitive Edge: Law Practice Risk Management,” lawyers were taught how to to avoid falling into trouble with the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel by maintaining open communication with clients.
“This is the scared straight portion of our discussion,” said Brendon Levesque, of Horton Shields & Knox in Hartford. “A grievance is serious and once a grievance is filed, they can’t be withdrawn.”
Levesque and his co-presenter, Stephen Conover, a Carmody Torrance Sandak & Hennessey partner in Stamford who frequently represents lawyers and firms in grievance defense matters, warned lawyers of danger signs to avoid having a grievance filed.
“If you are asked to represent a client who has already fired three or four lawyers because they claimed the case lacked merit, in my opinion, run away,” Conover said.
This was one of two Continuing Legal Education programs that focused on ethics. The first session, earlier in the afternoon, provided a review of the most recent opinions from the CBA Standing Committee on Professional Ethics. During that program presented by Stuart Johnson, of Carmody Torrance, and John Logan, of Logan & Mencuccini in Torrington, lawyers were shown several examples ethics advisory opinions on attorney conduct.
They also disussed grievance complaint decisions by the Statewide Grievance Committee. In one opinion, a lawyer in New Haven was reprimanded for failing to pay for the services of a bookkeeper in the amount of $850. “You have to be careful of how you conduct yourselves at all times,” Logan told those in attendance.
In fact, lawyers refusing to pay employees or even people who do work for them unrelated to their practices, including car repairs and home improvements, were discussed as an unexpected source of grievance complaints in both ethics seminars.
“There has been an uptick for claims of lawyers breaching their fiduciary obligations,” Levesque said. “Getting a letter that says ‘Chief Disciplinary Counsel vs. your name’ is the last thing you want to see. That means you have to be very careful about every aspect of your practice. Be careful of what you do in your daily life. I just heard of a person who didn’t pay $400 for a court reporter and that became a grievance against that lawyer. Don’t let that happen to you.”
One lawyer who participated in the seminar asked the panelists why grievances are permitted to be filed against lawyers in Connecticut, even if they are without merit.
Conover pointed out that a grievance that is resolved before it gets formally filed by the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel does not become part of the public record, and that any grievance complaint should be addressed promptly by any lawyer accused of violating the Rules of Professional Conduct. “Anything else would require a practice book change,” Conover said.