Manage expecations with candid legal advice

In November 2017, I posted The 50 Original Rules.  It’s a recap of the history of the conduct rules that apply to lawyers.

As best as I can tell, the earliest record of guidelines for attorney conduct in the United States is David Hoffman’s 1836 publication of his Fifty Resolutions in Regard to Professional Deportment.  My post includes each of Hoffman’s 50 resolutions.

182 years later, it’s somewhat fascinating to me how many of Hoffman’s resolutions continue to resonate.  Many are embedded in the rules and our collective professional conscience.  Given my fascination, I’ve resolved to blog about the continued relevance of Hoffman’s resolutions, taking them one at a time.  So far:

  1. Don’t be a jerk.
  2. Don’t switch sides.
  3. Don’t overcomplicate trust accounting.
  4. Deliver the file
  5. Resolve to be a mentor
  6. Be Diligent

Today’s tip: manage expectations by providing candid legal advice.

Here’s Hoffman’s Resolution 31:

  • “All opinions for clients, verbal or written, shall be my opinions, deliberately and sincerely given, and never venal and flattering offerings to their wishes or their vanity. And though clients sometimes have the folly to be better pleased with having their views confirmed by an erroneous opinion than their wishes or hopes thwarted by a sound one, yet such assentation is dishonest and unprofessional. Counsel, in giving opinions, whether they perceive this weakness in their clients or not, should act as judges, responsible to God and man, as also especially to their employers, to advise them soberly, discreetly, and honestly, to the best of their ability, though the certain consequence be the loss of large prospective gains.”

I’m using the exact quote.  To be clear, I’m not suggesting that competent representation includes being responsible to God or any other deity.  Again, I was simply quoting Hoffman.

The rest of Resoluton 31 is as relevant today as it was in 1836.  Candid legal advice is always a better option than telling the client what the client wants to hear.

I’ve written often on managing client expectations:

In my experience, the lawyer who fails to set reasonable expectations at the outset of the representation should expect to have the client file a disciplinary complaint.

False hope leads to disappointment.  Even if the result is as good as the client should have expected from the outset, the client likely will be disappointed if the result pales in comparison to what the lawyer suggested the outcome would be.  Don’t fall into that trap.  As Hoffman said, “[a]nd though clients sometimes have the folly to be better pleased with having their views confirmed by an erroneous opinion than their wishes or hopes thwarted by a sound one, yet such assentation is dishonest and unprofessional.”

Better to thwart unreasonable hopes with sound advice than to nurture their growth.

Manage expectations by providing candid legal advice.  If you don’t, the client will insert your name into the Blank Space on a disciplinary complaint.

Don’t say I didn’t say I didn’t warn ya.

Image result for taylor swift blank space images

 

 

 

Resolve to be a mentor

In November 2017, I posted The 50 Original Rules.  It’s a post that briefly recaps the history of the conduct rules that apply to lawyers.

As best as I can tell, the earliest record of guidelines for attorney conduct in the United States is David Hoffman’s 1836 publication of his Fifty Resolutions in Regard to Professional Deportment.  My post on the original rules includes each of Hoffman’s 50 resolutions.

182 years later, it’s somewhat fascinating to me how many of Hoffman’s resolutions continue to resonate.  Many are embedded in the current rules and our collective professional conscience.

Given my fascination, I’ve resolved to blog about the continued relevance of Hoffman’s resolutions, taking them one at a time.  To date, I’ve posted:

Today, I’m focusing on #17, Hoffman’s resolution to mentor younger attorneys.  H resolved:

  • “Should I attain that eminent standing at the bar which gives authority to my opinions, I shall endeavor, in my intercourse with my junior brethren, to avoid the least display of it to their prejudice. I will strive never to forget the days of my youth, when I too was feeble in the law, and without standing. I will remember my then ambitious aspirations (though timid and modest) nearly blighted by the inconsiderate or rude and arrogant deportment of some of my seniors; and I will further remember that the vital spark of my early ambition might have been wholly extinguished, and my hopes forever ruined, had not my own resolutions, and a few generous acts of some others of my seniors, raised me from my depression. To my juniors, therefore, I shall ever be kind and encouraging; and never too proud to recognize distinctly that, on many occasions, it is quite probable their knowledge may be more accurate than my own, and that they, with their limited reading and experience, have seen the matter more soundly than I, with my much reading and long experience.”

What great advice.  Someone helped you when you first started. Pay it forward.

Indeed, there’s a relatively new opportunity to serve as a mentor. It’s an opportunity about which many Vermont lawyers might remain unaware.

In 2016, the Court approved a wholesale revision to the Rules of Admission.  The new rules replaced the old “clerkship” with two so-called “experiential requirements.”  Each appears in Rule 12.  Per the rule, lawyers admitted by examination have 1 year to complete:

  1. 15 hours of CLE on Vermont practice & procedure; and,
  2. a mentorship under the supervision of a Vermont lawyer or judge.

With respect to the mentorship, a new lawyer admitted by exam must:

  1. meet regularly with the mentor, no less than 10 times; and,
  2. complete at least 40 hours of activities from a list compiled by the CLE Board and approved by the Board of Bar Examiners.

The mentorship program list is here.

If you’d like to serve as a mentor, please contact me.  I’m going to try to maintain an informal list of mentors with whom to place new lawyers who contact me looking for one.

In addition, I know of many Vermont lawyers who are considering, or beginning to consider, a so-called “exit strategy.”  Mentoring a new lawyer can be a great way to groom a successor to take over your practice.

Finally, remember this: even if  not serving as a mentor for a new lawyer who is completing the formal mentorship requirement, there’s likely a less experienced lawyer who views you as a mentor.  As Hoffman resolved, treat that lawyer well.  There was a time when you were in that lawyer’s shoes and someone more experienced took the time to encourage you.

In short, someone made a difference in your career.  Make a difference in someone else’s.

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