My daughter recently graduated high school. She is off to college in a couple of months, and I am setting up a cot at my Cohen and Wolf office, where I will be working the rest of my life to pay her tuition. She may want to be a doctor. Can I bill in the afterlife?
Since it looks like I will be practicing for many years to come, perhaps it’s time to look at issues that affect very experienced attorneys, such as competence, IOLTA account management and health issues. Over the years I have often been regaled by the fabulous stories told by those learned counsel who have practiced well into their retirement years. For many, practicing law is a way of life. It is an experience they love. It is relevance. It is fascination. It is fun. Even if they could retire they would not.
As a former first assistant chief disciplinary counsel, I was often heartbroken when I had to prosecute very experienced attorneys who, for one reason or another, had no choice but to continue to practice law and had trouble doing so due to age or health-related issues. Now that I defend those experienced practitioners, I can only shake my head and think, “What more can be done?”
In this age of technology, competence is not only gauged by years of legal experience amassed by practitioners but by their ability to keep up with all the changing laws, rules and procedures. It means understanding online research tools, social media investigations, QuickBooks software, emails and text messaging. There is no choice in the matter. A competent attorney needs to know how to navigate the fundamentals of technology.
In a world in which most clients communicate electronically in one way or another, the attorney must also advance in communication methods. A lawyer must keep the client reasonably informed. What is “reasonable” nowadays? Not too long ago an attorney was disciplined because her computer was down and she didn’t know how to send a text message. If your children or grandchildren don’t have the patience to teach you the nuances of e-communication, there are great inexpensive adult education courses that can help you along.
IOLTA bookkeeping is a bigger can of worms. I have looked at books and records in cases of IOLTA bookkeeping breaches that most second-grade teachers wouldn’t be able to decipher. Illegible handwriting is bad enough, and illegible cursive is even worse. I have been involved in countless cases where the SGC auditors could not decipher the information provided by senior counsel. It’s a sure way to fail your audit or have to defend probable cause findings before the Grievance Committee. Take the time necessary to clean up your accounts and reconcile your balances. You will thank me later. Inputting information by hand with no reconciliation efforts or backup system can be disastrous. One missed ledger entry or an addition error leading to a bounced check can then lead to months of SGC reporting requirements or far worse.
To all those attorneys who took the bar because they couldn’t add or do not have the inclination to change their spots, I urge you to sign up for an office management CLE given by Frances Mickelson-Dera or other grievance practitioners. Not only will this type of seminar apply to the two-hour ethics CLE requirement but it may save you lots of time and money in the long run.
One of the most difficult things for any attorney is to admit that he or she is not fit to practice because of a health issue. Even worse is a situation in which a solo practitioner ends up in an emergency health crisis. Going on inactive status may help to get through that difficult stage without affecting current clients and pending cases. If an attorney complies with the inactive status requirements found in Conn. Practice Book Section 2-56, it may just provide the necessary time to heal. A trustee will be appointed to protect the clients. It is best if you have an attorney in mind who knows where your files are and how they are kept and can immediately assist with the administration of those files in an emergency. (All attorneys should have a potential trustee in mind or on board before a crisis develops). Otherwise, a trustee will be appointed for you. Any pending grievances will be stayed, and hopefully, because you have planned for such an emergency, you will avoid any grievances altogether.
My daughter wants to help people who do not have access to health care in certain areas of the United States and abroad. It’s wonderful and I applaud her empathy. I’ll be working. Thankfully, I find it fascinating and fun.