Ethics panel speaks at Bay Ridge Lawyers Association meeting
The Bay Ridge Lawyers Association hosted a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) seminar on ethics titled “Practical Tips for Avoiding a Grievance,” with a panel led by past President Andrea Bonina at Bay Ridge’s Pearl Room on Wednesday.
Attorney Daniel Antonelli served as the moderator for the CLE. The panel included Bonina and past Kings County Criminal Bar Association Presidents Michael Farkas and Andrew Rendeiro. All three of the panelists sit on the Grievance Committee for the 2nd, 11th and 13th Judicial Districts in New York state.
“We’re going to try to point out some practical tips, some common complaints, some common mistakes, things that pop up a lot,” Antonelli said. “Things like [Interest on Lawyer Account] irregularities, commingling, retention of clients, retainer agreements, disengagement agreements and maintaining client relationships.”
The program opened with Bonina explaining the grievance process. She explained that the most common grievances, like fee disputes, are generally handled by the Brooklyn Bar Association, or the bar association from the county the lawyer usually practices in, and that more serious grievances are handled by the grievance committee for the Appellate Division.
One of the most common reasons attorneys can get into trouble with the grievance committee is due to failure to respond to a letter from the grievance committee. However, the panel also identified meeting with potential new clients as common causes for grievances, especially when there is confusion as to whether or not an attorney agrees to take on a case.
Farkas explained that even if an attorney doesn’t take on a client, they owe a duty to that person regarding any confidential information gained during a consultation. He explained that attorneys must use retainer agreements when taking on a client and suggested that they use non-engagement letters when they decide against taking on that client.
“It is now required that you engage somebody with a retainer agreement,” Farkas said. “In a criminal case, if you take a flat fee retainer of $3,000 or more it requires a written retainer. Non-engagement letters are important as well. You have a consultation with someone, it looks like it’s moving forward, but if you know that you are not going to engage in an attorney/client relationship you really should reduce that to writing and issue a non-engagement letter.”
Bonina shared a common practice that she uses in her practice that she says has helped her avoid grievances — she sends client surveys throughout each case.
“We ask them, ‘How they think the case is going? Have they tried to make an appointment? Have they tried to call or have calls been returned?’” Bonina said. “I review them and nine times out of 10 it comes back excellent, but occasionally someone is unhappy and I take the time to call them. It helps them feel their concerns are being addressed and god forbid they turn around and file a grievance, I have a written record that says everything is great.”
BRLA President Being Honored
Margaret Stanton, the president of the Bay Ridge Lawyers Association, is being honored at the annual Brooklyn Power Women in Business awards dinner. The event will take place on March 1 at El Caribe.
BRLA Heads to Atlantic City for Annual CLE Meeting
The Bay Ridge Lawyers Association hosts its annual winter seminar at Atlantic City on Feb 8 and 9. The event is worth five CLE credits and will feature speakers Hon. Bernard J. Graham, Bruno Codispoti, Michael P. DiRaimondo, Y. Gail Goode and Paul V. Nuccio.
“We have a great time down there. For our members who take the time to come down Thursday evening it’s worth it,” Stanton said. “We have a slate of great speakers that include some interesting topics and we also get to spend time with each other.”
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