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Attorneys instructed on how to avoid grievances at Brooklyn Bar Association

February 7, 2017 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Brooklyn Bar Association gave tips on how attorneys can avoid grievances and how to handle them if they come up. Pictured from left: Pery D. Krinsky, Richard A. Klass, Andrea E. Bonina, Steve Cohn and Daniel Antonelli. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese

Attorneys try their best to make every client happy, but occasionally even the best attorneys will fail to meet their clients’ expectations and a grievance will be filed against them. It’s part of doing business in the legal world.

However, the Brooklyn Bar Association (BBA) wants to make sure that lawyers are doing everything they can to avoid grievances, which is why it hosted a continuing legal education (CLE) seminar titled “Practical Tips for Avoiding Grievances: What Every Attorney Needs to Know” in Brooklyn Heights on Monday.

“How do we keep our clients happy?” wondered Daniel Antonelli, moderator of Monday night’s CLE. “We try to do the right thing and try to make sure our client understands the situation as best they can. But everyone has a lot of cases and a lot going on. How do you make sure you don’t miss anything? How do you manage clients’ expectations? And how do you deal with a grievance if one gets filed against you?”

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To answer those questions, the BBA assembled a panel that included Pery D. Krinsky, an attorney who specializes in ethics-based defense litigation, and Andrea Bonina and Richard Klass, two attorneys who serve the Grievance Committee in the 2nd, 11th and 13th Judicial Districts. During the casual talk, the audience was encouraged to ask questions while the panelists tried to give their best practical advice.

The first thing that the panel suggested was to know your limits as an attorney and to not try to take on more than what you can handle or are trained for.

“The first thing is to define your area of practice,” said Klass. “I’m a general practitioner, but I don’t know the first thing about patent law. If a client asked me about patents, I would refer them to a patent lawyer. Part of it is defining who you are and what your practice is. The first thing you should do is to make sure that you are able to handle the situation in hand.”

Krinsky warned people that even though grievances involving escrow accounts tend to be the most likely to get an attorney suspended or disbarred, they are far from the most common the Grievance Committee sees.

“About 80 to 90 percent of all disciplinary complaints, in one form or another, have an element of failure to communicate,” Krinsky said. “The complaints usually involve some form of, ‘My lawyer doesn’t call me back, my lawyer doesn’t let me know what’s going on in the case, my lawyer doesn’t keep me informed about what I need to know about.’ Many of those complaints can be avoided with practice management.”

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Bonina suggested that attorneys manage expectations of their clients by the use of engagement letters which defines the attorney/client relationship.

“The key is to manage your clients’ expectations and you make sure that they know what you are and what you are not doing for them,” Bonina said. “I practice in personal injury, medical malpractice. There are things that I don’t handle, and I will tell clients from the get-go that I am handling their case, but if, for instance, an appeal comes up that I will be working with other counsel.”

When it comes to CLEs on grievances, the panelists voiced a familiar warning — the worst thing an attorney can do when they get a letter from the grievance committee is to ignore it. Bonina also stated that in addition to responding to grievance letters, attorneys can help themselves by taking precautions to avoid similar issues in the future and demonstrating those steps to the committee.

“If you have a grievance for financial irregularity, taking measures after the fact to show that you are addressing the problem does impress the Grievance Committee,” Bonina explained. “When people say they’ve made a change and show how they’ve altered their practice, that does have an impact on how your case will be evaluated and heard by the committee.”

The BBA will host its next CLE that will cover the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act. That event will be hosted at the Bar Association on Remsen Street on Feb. 14 at 5:30 p.m. with Mark Sullivan, author of “The Military Divorce Handbook,” as the lecturer.

 


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