Bay Ridge

Grievance Committee chair gives lecture at Bay Ridge Lawyers meeting

December 3, 2019 Rob Abruzzese
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The Bay Ridge Lawyers Association (BRLA) recently held a continuing legal education (CLE) seminar entitled “Ethics 101: What every Small or Solo practitioner Needs to Know” at which Andrea Bonina discussed best practices for attorneys to help keep them out of trouble.

Bonina has begun giving similar lectures to the BRLA each year and it’s easy to see why, as she is not only a past president of the association but is also chair of the Grievance Committee for the second, 11th and 13th Judicial Districts.

Appointed in the committee in 2014 by then-Presiding Justice Randall Eng, Bonina became the first woman to serve as chair of the Grievance Committee in over 30 years when the current presiding justice, Hon. Alan Scheinkman, tapped her to become chair last year.

From left: Hon. Mark Partnow, Hon. David Vaughan, Hon. Lawrence Knipel and Hon. Gerard Rosenberg.

“I was lucky enough to have been selected for that position,” Bonina said. “I think that the committee has a lot of amazing people on it and I’m lucky to work with practitioners across every practice area that there is. The people of the committee practice in all areas and represent Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens. We try to be extraordinarily fair to make sure the right result is reached.”

Bonina admitted that it can be a daunting task giving such a lecture to a group of accomplished attorneys but said that even the most experienced attorneys who work in small firms can be overwhelmed occasionally.

She warned that being overwhelmed is not an excuse to mishandle Interest on Lawyer Accounts (IOLA), which is one of the main ways that attorneys can run afoul of the Grievance Committee.

From left: Lisa Becker, Yolanda Guadagnoli and Maria Aragona, president of the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Kings County.

She said that not returning messages from their clients in a timely manner is the second most common reason for lawyers coming before the committee.

Bonina explained that having a set system in place for how and when to deal with both IOLA accounts and maintaining contact with their clients can be the best way to avoid neglect in busy periods.

“Client neglect is something that gets lawyers a lot of complaints and it’s easy to avoid if you have a process in place,” she said. “Small and solo practitioners can get easily overwhelmed, they might be away, or in court all day, but if there is a system and calls are returned the same way every time, they won’t forget during the times where they have a lot to deal with.”

Lawrence DiGiovanna (left) and Dominic Famulari.

Bonina said that she not only has her own process for returning clients’ calls and checking in on them during a case, but will often follow up with clients after cases are concluded as a way to figure out how to deal with smaller issues that might have gone overlooked.

“Having good training for your staff and having the right processes going on in the office is one of the keys to problem avoidance,” Bonina said. “When your clients feel like they’re being heard, they’re usually happy.”

One tip that is common to nearly every ethics CLE is that attorneys should not ignore ethics complaints. No matter how big or small, they do not go away if they are not addressed and they can only get worse if ignored.

“Nobody wants to have a grievance filed against them, but there are simple things to do to avoid having problems.”

The Bay Ridge Lawyers Association will host a Breakfast with Santa event on Saturday, Dec. 7 from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Dyker Beach Golf Course. It will be the third consecutive year the association is hosting the neighborhood event and there will be activities for kids, including arts and crafts and a photobooth. The kids can sit with Santa and have their faces painted as well. There will also be an ugly sweater contest for the adults.

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