Doing the right thing is always the right thing, especially for law firms.
Anyone can do the right thing in calm seas. But when times get tough, people can find themselves skating ethical boundaries. While a small step over the line may provide short-term benefit, when it comes to law there is no other option than to do right by clients and employees. The most successful firms understand that acting ethically at every opportunity leads to better long-term outcomes, both for their clients and for themselves.
Ethics above all.
To reap the benefits of an ethical practice, attorneys must go above and beyond the code of conduct. Law firms should abide by standard rules of professional conduct while seeking opportunities to do even more.
Any firm looking to build its ethical credibility should start with the basics. Financial accounts of client money and attorney money should always remain separate.
Keeping separate accounts is an extension of an attorney’s duty of loyalty. Law firms should never engage in matters that create conflicts of interest, internally or otherwise. To avoid those hairy situations, firms should make only truthful and honest representations to clients and tribunals, and they should go above and beyond where necessary.
Our firm has found proactive communication to be the most effective assurance of ethical practice. While every law firm has a fiduciary duty to keep clients reasonably informed about their cases, we implemented internal policies that take that duty a step further. In fact, a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for our attorneys is how often they communicate with clients. By proactively notifying clients about status updates, we keep our clients happy and never run into accusations of concealed information.
Establishing systems for ethical practice.
Law firms want to practice ethically, but willingness alone is not enough. To meet a higher standard, firms must implement systems that ensure ethical compliance in every case.
Continuing education helps attorneys and other staff keep up with evolving professional standards. We offer in-house CLEs to keep our teams informed. Employees who feel compelled to research a new opportunity for ethical client care always get the resources they require to do so.
Firms can also share case outcomes and studies with their peers to raise the bar of professionalism. Publications including Law360, ALM Verdict Search, and JVRA make this process simple. The more firms share their legal arguments and techniques, the more transparent their practices become and the more common ethical law grows.
In addition to in-house and intra-industry channels, firms should aspire to improve client communications. Today’s era of instant gratification and two-day Amazon Prime shipping means clients expect proactive updates and fast response times from their law firms. Meet that need by using internal controls to keep clients up to speed on their cases. In our firm we have established a system of attorney managers, compliance staff, and auditors to ensure ethical practice across all departments.
Not only will ethics and professionalism benefit your firm’s reputation, but that integrity will also improve long-term business outcomes.