This article was first published in Lex Witness April 2016 issue.
Ethics is a murky subject, especially these days. So what importance does ethics play when it comes to running a law practice really?
As the protectors and defenders of law in the society, lawyers are held to the utmost ethical standards. However, lawyers are also usually misrepresented as the ones with the questionable ethical standards.
India as a country offers various challenges and curve balls when it comes to dealing with a lot of red tapes and several levels of hierarchies in any process that a lawyers needs to deal with in order serve their clients best interest. So it is no surprise that lawyers sometimes feel the pressure to succumb to the grey areas, versus keeping it just black and white like the colours of the law.
Albeit the various hoops that the system offers to the practitioners of the law in these times, lawyers can still maintain their integrity when it comes to running a law practice. Below we note the 3 most critical aspects of running a law practice ethically.
WHOSE INTEREST IS IT?
Knowing the law and the legal loopholes, it is easy to get carried away sometimes and extend a well-paying matter to stretch for longer than it should. However, just like doctors, lawyers have the ethical and moral obligation to serve their clients’ (patients in this case) interest first. Clients usually only come to lawyers when they desperately need someone to protect them against the adversities of the laws of the society. If a lawyer doesn’t put a client’s interest first, and instead chooses to benefit monetarily over their unfortunate situation, then it’s not just unethical but also unfair. A lawyer’s first and foremost obligation is to serve his/her client in the best and the quickest way possible, while upholding the integrity of the letter of the law.
Be rest assured, a satisfied client will be sure to benefit your practice more through referrals and pristine reputation that your practice can boast in the times to come.
THE KILL BILL!
Often times it happens in law firms that although most of the work is done by the associates, the bill that reaches the clients also shows a substantial amount of partner billable hours, since the partner had to put in substantial number of hours ensuring that the associate’s work was done well. No doubt, it is important to provide teachable opportunities to associates at the firm for them to enhance their work and become better resources at the firm, it is equally important for the firm to see to it that the client is not paying for the associates’ training. A client hires a firm’s services for the partner-in-charge’s work and reputation, and not become case studies for the partner’s associates.
Make sure that the costs involved with training on the job is mostly borne at the firm’s end, versus being passed off to the client to pay for.
Be sure to run conflict checks on religiously when it comes to picking up new client matters. It can be tempting to take on as many clients, especially if they are high value mandates. But always remember, it is neither in your existing or the new prospective client’s interest to take on matters where the clients are competitors to each other. This rule applies for clients across the firm’s practice areas. When in confusion, especially if it involves matters across different practice areas, disclose first to your existing client to check on their comfort. If you get a go-ahead from your existing client, then let the prospective client know as well. If both parties do not have concerns, then your obligation to both remain intact and also in the process you manage to gain their trust and confidence.
A law practice is only successful as their client’s satisfaction. Adopting deceitful practices just to increase your number of clientele will not help in running a long term sustainable practice.
In a nut shell, the key anthem for a law practice should be open and ethical communication. Whether it is with your clients, other involved parties in the process of servicing your client’s best interest, or for that matter your own firm’s associates; communicating effectively and honestly is crucial.
Be responsive to your clients’ needs, be respectful towards the legal system and the letter of the law, and be responsible for the work you and your team deliver!