Author: Mariah Gravley

Female Lawyers Are Leaving Law Firms Often Due to Unfair Compensation

A recent American Bar Foundation report based on interviews and focus groups with female lawyers revealed that the most cited reasons for female lawyers leaving law firms was unfair or biased compensation systems. The report was based on 12 focus groups located in six cities as well as 12 individual interviews.

 

The Issues

 

According to the study, female lawyers reported that they originated more work than some of their male counterparts and still received lower pay. The study and report was done in collaboration with the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Commission on Women in the Legal Profession as part of the ABA’s initiative on long-term careers for female attorneys.

 

According to the ABA’s May 3, 2021 press release, among the combination of factors that affected women’s decisions on whether to remain at their law firms, leave the profession, or move to a different legal job after being in the legal profession for more than 15 years was unfair compensation. A large number of the women in the study were their family’s breadwinners with spouses who were either low-paid or unpaid. The women reported that the pay disparities affected their ability to support their families as well as engage in leadership opportunities at their firms.

 

Multiple female lawyers reported that their firms told them they were making less than their male counterparts because the men had to support a wife and children. Many respondents also noted an inequitable distribution of origination credit for cases.

 

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

 

In addition to inequitable compensation, additional factors that influenced the women’s decisions to leave the profession included:

 

  • Poor collegiality due to a bullying atmosphere and a hyper-competitive culture;
  • Driven isolation from colleagues due, in part, by ever-increasing demands for billable hours and lack of women in leadership;
  • Behavior that was sexist and racist;
  • The want for more fulfilling, interesting, or challenging work that would remain with senior partners;
  • Being looked over for promotions, particularly to equity partner, especially for women who worked fewer hours; and
  • Unpredictable schedules and long hours, making it difficult to manage personal and professional schedules.

 

There were, however, positive aspects of the profession that respondents identified even if the final decision was to leave the law. This included:

 

  • Intellectual stimulation in the law;
  • Relationships with colleagues at the firm;
  • The ability to help clients solve legal issues;
  • Autonomy in their work;
  • The social impact of the work;
  • Monetary compensation compared to other professions.

 

More information on this topic can be found here.

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How Lawyers Can Avoid Ethical Pitfalls and Disciplinary Action

Attorneys are stewards of personal and sensitive information provided to them by clients. Lawyers are also officers of the court and are in roles of public trust. The standards placed on attorneys are high, however, and lawyers must carefully mind ethics obligations to avoid running afoul of the rules. That being said, issues can arise. Below are tips on how to avoid ethical pitfalls and disciplinary action according to the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Journal.

 

Tips for Lawyers

 

Most states across the nation require training in ethics as part of lawyers’ continuing legal education requirements. With the economic challenges that have come as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, both recently licensed and experienced attorneys have had to reevaluate how they practice — and, sometimes, even their career paths. Law school training, however, may not have properly prepared attorneys (especially newer ones) on the ethical and business related challenges typically faced in small firm or solo practice. This leaves attorneys at these sized firms — both new and veteran — in a more vulnerable place when it comes to disciplinary complaints.

 

  • Create strong office management processes: Not only will this help make sure you can meet your clients’ needs, but a good system is critical for avoiding disciplinary issues. Basics should include a diary and docketing system to keep track of court filing deadlines, hearings, and statutes of limitations. Tickler systems for file reviews will ensure you do so at regular intervals and prevent things from slipping through the cracks;
  • Intake screening is key: Learning when to accept a potential client’s case and when to reject it is important. Discerning when a potential client will be difficult is a critical skill. Know that you do not have to take every potential client’s case but, rather, you can use discretion in client selection. Undertaking matters in diverse areas of law requires you learn those areas, possibly leaving you overwhelmed or unable to develop an expertise;
  • Client and third party funds are sacred: Repeat this to yourself on a daily basis. Lawyers have both a fiduciary and ethical duty to maintain, handle, and disburse client funds only for their intended purpose. These practices must be consistent with relevant rules and applicable law — so learn the trust accounting rules in your jurisdiction. Misuse of client’s funds will guarantee disciplinary action;
  • Communicate often: Lack of communication is one of the top complaints made against attorneys. When an attorney does not promptly respond to a client’s emails or phone calls, they become frustrated and dissatisfied. Ethical rules require attorneys to keep a client reasonably informed about their matters and promptly comply with reasonable requests;
  • Diligently follow-through: When clients’ matters are neglected, disciplinary charges often include lack of communication. If an attorney just stops working on a matter or delays his or her work, this can be a problem. Accepting a legal matter on behalf of a client requires diligent follow-through until the representation has finished.

 

For more legal practice tips from the ABA, click here.

For more legal tips on our blog, check out How Lawyers can improve their Online Reputation and Creating Opportunities in your Legal Career.

North Carolina Court Slams Attorneys’ Failure to Meet Discovery Deadlines

A North Carolina court recently granted in part and denied in part a defendant’s motion for sanctions against the plaintiff for missing deadlines to respond to discovery requests. Subsequent to the filing of the motion for sanctions, the plaintiff produced documents that were illegible and failed to comply with ESI protocol. Plaintiff also failed to conduct a search of email accounts and a mobile phone, both of which clearly had data that was responsive to the discovery requests.

 

The Discovery Dispute

 

The North Carolina court had issued a prior order imposing sanctions on the plaintiffs, which required payment of expenses and set a 30-day deadline to comply with the discovery. This deadline was imposed when the plaintiffs did not propose a date themselves to the court.

 

Although the plaintiffs missed the court’s deadline, the defendant agreed to a month extension. No production, however, actually occurred. Since the date of the discovery order instructing the parties to resolve the dispute, the plaintiffs had four months to produce. At that point, the plaintiffs claimed it would take even more time to review more than 160,000 pages of responsive material and remove duplicates. They also noted that the counterclaim defendants would need to review the production. When the plaintiffs requested more time, the court denied the request and instead ordered the parties to meet and propose an agreed-upon discovery schedule.

 

The plaintiffs missed the first deadline and disclosed that they could not follow the proposed schedule. They also noted they could no longer afford to hire an electronic discovery vendor due to expense and that they had to review 160,000 documents — not 160,000 pages.

 

The Court’s Decision

 

The court noted that the plaintiffs’ failure to timely produce documents on dates that they chose was unacceptable. Although the plaintiffs pleaded at court hearings that they were inexperienced in the complexities of ESI discovery and that they needed to coordinate discovery production with counsel for counterclaim defendants, the court did not find either one as a valid excuse. The court issued sanctions reasoning that the defendant suffered prejudice and to ensure respect for the judicial process.

 

According to the American Bar Association (ABA), there are several things an attorney can do to avoid mishandling discovery during litigation. These include:

 

  • Creating a realistic schedule and sticking to it;
  • Starting discovery as early as possible;
  • Dating, sourcing, and stamping each delivery of documents;
  • Preparing a privilege log; and
  • Understanding the new Federal Rules.

 

The case is State of North Carolina vs. AppyCity, LLC; Timothy S. Fields; Melissa Crete; and Daisy Mae Fowler a/k/a Daisy Mae Barber 2021 NCBC LEXIS 17 (N.C. Super. Mar. 3, 2021).

Lawyer Sanctioned for Frivolous Filings

A lower court imposed sanctions on a lawyer who filed lengthy and frivolous filings in a dispute with his brother. The Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the sanctions for the Florida-based bankruptcy attorney. The pleadings, according to reports, were riddled with exclamation points, rants, and at one point even quoted Bugs Bunny.

The Case

In its December 15 unpublished per curiam opinion, the appellate court placed sanctions on the man. The behavior by the bankruptcy attorney included comments during a deposition telling opposing counsel to “shush, shush, shush” as well as frivolous filings, one of which included a haiku in a motion seeking reconsideration of a court ruling. The bankruptcy attorney further quoted Looney Tunes character Bugs Bunny when arguing that the sanctions motion against him was lacking specific allegations.

According to the opinion, the sanctions started from the attorney’s self-representation in litigation that began with a probate case and then moved into bankruptcy court. Initially appointed as the personal representative of his mother’s estate, the attorney was then removed by the court based on his brother’s request due to filing for bankruptcy and listing the brother as holding a non-priority unsecured claim. The brother, on the other hand, alleged that the debt was a result of the attorney converting the estate property for personal use and, therefore, was not dischargeable in bankruptcy court. The attorney claimed the bankruptcy court lacked jurisdiction; in response, his brother filed for sanctions.

Monetary Fines

At a sanction hearing, the bankruptcy court ordered the attorney to pay his brother nearly $3,000 in attorney’s fees. After attending a hearing on the underlying bankruptcy case, the brother again filed for sanctions. Ruling on the merits of the case, the bankruptcy court held that the attorney acted in bad faith throughout the litigation, awarding the brother nearly $10,000 in costs. According to the bankruptcy court, the attorney suffocated the docked with frivolous and unnecessarily long pleadings as well as asked repetitive and rude questions in depositions. The court further noted the attorney was wrong when he claimed the bankruptcy court lacked jurisdiction over his brother’s claim.

A district court noted that the bankruptcy court lacked authority to impose sanctions and, therefore, interpreted its order as a recommendation imposing the same sanctions. The attorney appealed. Not only did the 11th Circuit uphold the lower court’s sanctions, but placed additional sanctions of almost $3,500 for expenses incurred by the attorney’s brother for the appeal justifying its decision on the attorney’s baseless arguments, according to an article by Law360.

 

To protect your reputation from harm like this, check out Attorney Tips and How Lawyers can Improve Their Online Reputation.