• August 26, 2014

Military Working DogsIf a dog, without provocation, attacks or injures any person who is acting peaceably in any place where the person may lawfully be, the owner of the dog is liable in damages to the person so attacked or injured to the full amount of the injury sustained.

BigLaw: I am talking to you. Recently, I reunited with an old lawyer friend who shared an ugly story with me.  He was adverse to a junior lawyer at an excellent local law firm (a lawyer whom we will call “Fido”) in a simple dispute over a loan default.

My friend (whom we will call Creditor’s Counsel) called Fido to tell Fido that Fido’s client, the debtor, had triggered another event of default under the loan agreement. As a courtesy, Creditor’s Counsel was calling to let Fido know that the creditor, through his lawyer, would be sending a formal “Notice of Default,” as to to the latest default, as required under the loan documents.

This should have been a very short telephone call without any consequences. This was not the case.

Fido expressed outrage that Creditor’s Counsel would send a letter to Fido’s client, saying that this violated Minnesota attorney ethics rules. (Rule 4.2 of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct, Communication with Person Represented by Counsel.) Creditor’s counsel, surprised by this response, simply said that he would not send the Notice of Default to Fido’s client and he would rely on Fido to communicate this latest Notice of Default to Fido’s client.

Again, this should have been a very short telephone call without any consequences. Again, this was not the case.

Fido brought an ethics complaint against Creditor’s Counsel for an alleged violation of Minn. R. Prof. Conduct, 4.2. Eventually, Fido withdrew his ethics complaint but not before causing Creditor’s Counsel to have to respond to the baseless claim and not before inflicting this waste of time on our lawyer’s board.

(1) This is ludicrous.

(2) While it is easy to roll one’s eyes at Fido’s rabid lawyering and move on, I would suggest there is a more important take-away for all law firms across the country.

When a law firm tosses little cases to a n00b lawyer and the law firm does not properly supervise the n00b lawyer, the law firm not only risks violation of ethical rules itself (which require supervision, Rule 5.1) but the law firm hurts the law firm’s reputation, as well. The law firm also does no favor to the n00b lawyer’s reputation, of course (who, after all, is supposedly “the future of the firm”). And if that is not enough to get law firms’ attention, note that unsupervised asshattery disserves the law firm’s clients. (Who do you think paid for this asshat’s pointless hissy-fit, actually shelled out dollars, by the way?)

Does your law firm have a policy for when individual lawyers can lodge ethics complaints against other lawyers? Shouldn’t it have some system of oversight, approval, or review?

And, just because your law firm may be of a size where a “small $XX,000 matter” is in the nature table scrap gristle that you feed to Fido and the other pups for purposes of training, try to keep in mind that your firm’s apathy and inattention to how cases handled, even small ones for clients you do not care about, could end up costing your firm a lot more than you might have imagined possible.

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