A lawyer is held to very high ethical and professional standards regarding the practice of law. The Supreme Court of New Jersey has a responsibility to make sure that attorneys adhere to these standards to ensure justice and to promote and maintain public confidence in the legal system.
In order to accomplish this task the NJ Supreme Court has adopted and enforces the Rules of Professional Conduct outlined by the American Bar Association. Lawyers that commit professional misconduct in the State of New Jersey are subject to discipline by the Supreme Court. Penalties and punishment can range from admonition which is the least serious discipline to reprimand, censure, and temporary suspension from practice to the most serious discipline which is permanent disbarment.
What Type Of Attorney Behavior Constitutes Unethical Conduct?
Although the list is quite extensive and there are many rules which govern professional conduct for attorney behavior, here are some of the more common areas in which attorneys are disciplined:
- Not answering phone calls or responding to reasonable inquiries about a client’s case.
- Conflicts of interest, when representing one party to a transaction while acting as an attorney for the other side. Conflicts of interest are generally prohibited unless both parties are fully aware and understand the conflict and sign a written consent.
- Advising a client to lie or misrepresent themselves in court. Attorneys owe a duty of candor to the court and any attorney that is found to have deceived the court or intentionally misrepresented the facts can be disciplined.
- Mishandling or misappropriating client funds. Attorneys find themselves in trouble when they do not return money that a client is entitled to in a timely manner or the attorney fails to make a written account for that money.
What Is The Office Of Attorney Ethics?
The attorney discipline process is usually started when an Attorney Grievance form is submitted to the Secretary of the local district ethics committee. The Supreme Court has established the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) to investigate and prosecute attorneys that are being disciplined for ethical issues or other types of misconduct. The OAE manages 18 district ethics committees across New Jersey as well as 17 district fee arbitration committees throughout the state.
What is Fee Arbitration?
One of the most common complaints that attorneys face is charging a client an unreasonable fee for a legal matter. In general most fee disputes do not constitute unethical behavior for a lawyer. When a client believes that his attorney’s fees were unreasonable for the work performed then the case can be settled before the Fee Arbitration Committee.
Many fee disputes are resolved because there was some misunderstanding as to the fee schedule between the parties. Lawyers are required to explain the basis of the fee they charge and have it in writing before the case begins. Disputes over fees and the value of the services that were provided can be resolved by the courts or through the Fee Arbitration Committee.
Where Can I Find Help?
Because disciplining a lawyer and potentially suspending or revoking a professional license is a very serious matter it takes evidence and proof to justify disciplinary action. In many cases an honest disagreement over how a case was handled, simple mistakes or errors in judgment and disputes over fees do not constitute unethical conduct. Many issues can be resolved with open communication with the client and keeping the client informed on the status of their case.
The Rosenblum Law Firm helps many attorneys that are facing ethics violations and professional misconduct charges. Call us today for a free consultation.