Ethics and the Law: To Be or Not to Be - By Robert Pelton

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Thursday, August 31st, 2017

Life is full of problems. . . The life of a lawyer can bring on many problems that regular citizens are not aware of and sometimes have little sympathy for. . .  Lawyers—like doctors, law enforcement officers, and other professions—are disliked and sometimes hated until they are needed.

Depression, anxiety, nervousness, and other mental issues follow some members of the bar. The suicide rate for lawyers is very high as compared to that of other members of society. Many sleepless nights occur when a lawyer is properly preparing a case for an accused citizen. As in the life of a surgeon, some lawyers literally have a human life in their hands. Nothing is worse than an ill-prepared defense when a human life is on the line.

When Jim Skelton suggested to me that I create an ethics hotline, many lawyers we knew were dealing with alcohol, drug, and mental issues. They needed help. Thanks to the creation of the hotline, many of these unfortunate souls reached out and got help. It has become for some a crisis hotline at times.

Some new members have volunteered to serve on the committee. The existing committee members are lawyers I selected in the beginning. They were chosen because I knew I could depend on them no matter what hour of the day or night trouble beckoned. The same will be expected of the new volunteers. The following are the original members of this most important committee: Jack Zimmermann, Greg Velasquez, Joe Pelton, Robyn Harlin, Joe Connors, Michael Mowla, Ray Fuchs, Larry McDougal, Brent Mayr, Jimmy Ardoin, Keith Hampton, and Chuck Lanehart. The newly added members are John Carsey, Valerie Cavitt, P. Michael Schneider, and Paul Smith.

For some unknown reason, many association members have not been aware of the hotline, and they tend to post their problems on the general listserve. This is incorrect. Please call the ethics hotline number and you will receive a call or several calls to help you with your crisis or ethical question. Put the number in your phone so you will have it when you need it. All calls remain confidential, so there is no reason to put your business on the street. When you call, an email is generated to me, and I either call you directly or contact one of the other members to assist—or sometimes to get another opinion.

There are a few simple things you can do to avoid some common problems: Return calls to clients. Don’t take cases you cannot handle. If you get a letter from the grievance committee, answer it immediately. Prepare your cases, whether it’s as simple as a traffic ticket or capital murder. Every case is important because it is important to your clients, and you took an oath to represent them. Document your fee agreement; document every time you talk or meet with a client. If there are family members or others who your client wants to be informed of the case, make sure you get a waiver of the attorney/client privilege. It can always be revoked if your client doesn’t want his ex-wife or girlfriend knowing what is happening with the case. Some of the people your client thinks will be with him until the end can turn out to be your worst enemy.