5 posts categorized "Legal Ethics, Professional Responsibility"

October 27, 2010

Hug Your Lawyer: Good Stories About Lawyers

Hug a lawyer today             Contrary to popular belief, many people have positive experience(s) with their lawyers!  About a week or so ago I posted the following request on a fabulous website called Help a Reporter Out (check it out): 

I am looking for people who have been injured in an accident whether it be vehicle related (car, motorcycle, bus, boat, plane, as a pedestrian, bicyclist) or in a slip/trip and fall type case (falling down stairs, off of a ladder, tripped on sidewalk, slipped in store) and whose case has been settled already. How has the accident affected your life? The lives of people around you? Did you use a lawyer and what was your experience if you did? By way of introduction, I'm a lawyer who represents injured people and I write about personal injury in my blog. To be clear, I'm not looking for cases -- I'm looking for people whose cases are already over.

            Within hours I received several responses.  I particularly enjoyed the response below because it sheds a well-deserved positive light on the personal injury profession (it came in two e-mails which I’m combining here).  The links are supplied by me --if you’ve read my blog before you’ll know that I love being able to provide access to further information.

             I hope you enjoy the story.  Feel free to submit comments and/or a story of your own.

 Jean’s Injury Story (Part One)

1975 mbz 450sl 002 Q:        What happened?

A:         I was injured in a car accident, not my fault. I had just put the license plates on my beautiful white, vintage Mercedes 450SL convertible and drove round the corner of my house and BAM!! Two cars smashed into me. Two minutes in my dream car mind you!  

Q:        How has the accident affected your life?

A:         My injuries were mostly emotional (there was smoke and I thought I was going to burn up and panicked trying to climb out of the car). I am very nervous driving and am now super, hyper-careful. I see how bad peoples’ driving habits are. I tailor my driving to accommodate rush hour, bad weather and night driving.

Crazy driver 002 Q:        How has the accident affected the lives of people around you?

A:         My husband gets impatient sometimes but understands. He too has realized the poor driving habits of other people.  

Q:        Did you use a lawyer and what was your experience if you did?

A:         Yes and he was awesome. Very compassionate and communicative. This was the second time I was a client of his.   I’ll flesh out more if you’re interested.

With Warmest Regards,


Well, needless to say I did want her to flesh out her story.  Here’s part two of her story:

Jean’s Injury Story (Part Two)

    I have an awesome experience with my lawyer (David Singer from Hollywood Florida). Prior to attending law school, I was in an accident (not my fault) and he handled the case beautifully.

          Twenty years later the 450SL accident occurred and David was the only lawyer I called. Regarding both of my cases with him, the standout was the even though I was not the gazillion $$ case, he treated me like I was. I did speak with him a few times during the representation (otherwise with his very competent legal assistant) and I felt very attended to and completely trusted that everything was being taken care of. Once I secured his representation, I could focus on getting my life together post accident. I would say that my experience was so positive because I listened to my attorney--I understood that in order for him to help me, I needed to let him do what he does best--he did not need to "co-counsel" with me. When I decided to relocate from Florida to North Carolina., David was kind enough to be a reference for me--he certainly got to know me well enough over the years!

  Physical therapy        While my injuries were mostly emotional, I did have to get physical therapy for my back which still acts up occasionally. I saw a chiropractor and a massage therapist for several months. Regarding my emotional injuries, I did seek situational counseling for a few weeks to help me overcome the fear of being burned up in the car. Without the counseling, I would have been suffering from nightmares, lack of sleep and being unable to drive. Now, I sleep fine, but the imprint is still there for my driving. As I stated in my prior email, I do tailor my driving to avoid certain roads and times of day. I can drive in heavy traffic, like if I had to drive on the Long Island Expressway I could, but if I have another option that I can exercise, I will.

        I sometimes think that Personal Injury Lawyers get a bad rap as "ambulance chasers" but they perform a necessary function--otherwise what would injured people do to help themselves, protect themselves from being taken advantage of by the insurance companies and sent out a public policy message?
With Warmest Regards,

Jean Croughan Gillis, Esq.
Carolina Family Wealth Planning
Tel (local): 704-469-3525
Tel (toll free): 888-9-ASK-JEAN
Fax: 888-406-6937
Email: [email protected]
Meeting Locations throughout North Carolina including Ballantyne,
South Park, Lake Norman and the SC Suburbs


Questions? Concerns?

If You, Or Someone You Know, Was In an Accident

Call For Your Free Consultation

Please Contact Attorney Lowell Steiger Immediately at

(323) 852-1100 or toll-free (877) 487-8221

 [email protected]

Skype (with or without video): Lowell_Steiger

 "Treated With the Respect and Understanding That You Deserve"

October 17, 2010

Lawyer Horror Stories: Hitting on Vulnerable Client


    If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I oftentimes like to talk about the law in different contexts.  Recently I thought “gee, there are a lot of people out there who are unhappy with their (former) lawyer.”  I wondered to myself what people were thinking, what their negative experiences may have been and how that has impacted their view on lawyers. 

    So I put out an all-points-bulletin asking for peoples’ stories and, so far, have gotten several interesting responses.  I’m reprinting some of those stories in a series of blog posts, this being the first.  My goal is not to “out” any particular lawyer or alleged victim.  I will not identify any of the persons involved (lawyers, clients, etc.) by printing their real names.  I’m also going to mask locations when it seems that the location will give away the identity of those involved.

    The stories are not verified by me but, regardless, they are interesting by their very nature.  At the end of each story, I will post some relevant links and possibly offer a legal opinion based on California law.

    Feel free to respond with a story of your own and/or comments relevant to this series of stories.   

Lawyer Hits On Divorce Client with Aspberger's

    Belinda R. writes:

    When I was getting my divorce, I had what I feel was a bad lawyer.  I was 28 or so with three small children.   I have Asperger’s but at the time was not diagnosed.   However, it does make you naive (my husband says innocent like a child).   I was escaping an abusive relationship and my ex was stalking me. 

    I also didn’t have much money.  I found an attorney through a friend of a friend.  He had a good reputation for being aggressive, and as far as the attorney part went, he was good. Then he started making comments to me.  I did not understand many of them until I mentioned something to a friend and she told me that he was being suggestive and "making passes" at me.  He invited me to a pool party at his house but I did not go (my friend advised me against it - she was sort of my protector, she knew how innocent I was).  He took me out to dinner once and said that he wanted to talk about my case, but he kept ordering alcohol. I did not drink much then (and not at all now) but he kept trying to make me drink more and more. That did not seem right but I am not the best judge for what is right or normal in social interactions.  

    He made some statements that if I went out with him he could make my costs less. I did not really understand at the time, but my friend explained it.  It seemed like he wanted to trade dates and maybe more for his legal services.   I don’t really know, I never asked him to clarify but I never went out with him. Then one day he called me at work to tell me that he had "a hard-on and nowhere to put it."  I told my friend and she got really angry. I asked her if I should get another lawyer and she said, "Uh, yeah. You need to get another lawyer and report that SOB." (State Bar of California Complaint Form)  I did not report him but I did get another lawyer.  I have not been comfortable with lawyers since - and that was 14 years ago.

Analysis: Did This Lawyer Do Anything Wrong?

Aba logo     Hello?!?  I cannot make light of this situation.  Every California lawyer takes a sworn oath to act within the California Rules of Professional Conduct (i.e. ethics) and, if true, this lady's lawyer violated some very basic rules.  (Another excellent source is the American Bar Association Rules of Professional Conduct)

    The State Bar of California addresses this issue: California Rule 3-120, Sexual Relations with Client.

    The American Bar Association likewise addresses this issue.  It is fleshed out very well in a State of  Virginia Legal Ethics Opinion entitled Sexual Relationship With A Client.

    Sexual relationships between lawyer and client is a recurring problem and is the basis for lawyer discipline throughout the United States.  For continued reading on lawyer misconduct and the discipline that follows, I'd like to suggest that you read the Legal Professions Blog which discusses these issues and current disciplinary cases on a daily basis.

Do You Have A Lawyer Horror Story?

Scream    Do you have a lawyer horror story?  It can be a story about the mishandling of a loan modification, abusive attorneys (yours or the other party's), incompetence, disappointing results or?  Submit your story to me via e-mail at [email protected]

Oh, One Last Thing: Can You Fire Your Lawyer?

    Can you fire your lawyer?  The simple answer to this question is "yes."  Read on here:  Firing Your Lawyer and Hiring A New One

June 14, 2010

Witness Blindness: Memories & Perceptions Not Always Reliable

    You may be interested in an article that I came across in A Public Defender, a fascinating blawg.  This particular article, Change Blindness and the Fallacy of the All-Remembering Cop, illustrates how faulty a witness's memory might be.  This phenomenon is known as Inattentional Blindness.  Watch the short but very eye-opening videos below.  The first one illustrates how an eye-witness can easily misidentify an alleged defendant.  This, of course, would also apply to eye-witnesses in civil cases misidentifying or not accurately recalling people, places and things involved in an auto accident, slip and fall case, etc.  Watch The Door Study by Daniel Simmons

In A Public Defender's article, he goes on to discuss the case of Jerry Bordeaux and Roger Christianson. 

Take the sad case of Jerry Bordeaux and Roger Christianson. Bordeaux, fighting a traffic ticket, hired Christianson to represent him. Months later, when the matter was called to trial, Christianson answered for Bordeaux and started questioning the officer:

When the case started, the sole witness was Officer Coronado, who had ticketed Bordreaux. While Officer Coronado was on the stand, Mr. Christianson asked him:

“And what was I wearing?”
“Had I cut off my beard that day?”
“Was I wearing a beard that day?”
“I am the driver?”

After Officer Coronado identified Mr. Christianson as the person he had ticketed that day, Mr. Christianson revealed that he was actually the lawyer! What a brilliant ploy — if Officer Coronado couldn’t even remember which person he had ticketed, how could he be certain of what Mr. Bordreaux had done. By switching places with his client, Mr. Christianson impeached the reliability of Officer Coronado’s memory.

Finally, the following video, The Monkey Business Illusion by Daniel J. Simmons, confirms that we cannot always rely on eye-witness testimony.  This is not to say that an eye-witness has an agenda or that he/she is evil, lying, etc., but simply that we all have the ability to misperceive and rely on our misperception or that we have faulty memories because we are human.  Therefore, an attorney "beating up" an eye-witness's testimony is often times appropriate when zealously advocating for his/her client.  In fact, it is the ethical thing to do! (Note: It can be done with finesse, without humiliating the witness and allowing them to retain their dignity).

Questions? Concerns? 

For a Free Consultation please contact Attorney Lowell Steiger immediately at

(323) 852-1100

[email protected]

Skype (with or without video): Lowell_Steiger

"Treated With the Respect and Understanding That You Deserve"

February 07, 2010

Firing Your Lawyer (and hiring a new one): Can You Do It?

Note: This story has been fictionalized and all persons appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real people, living or dead, places or events is entirely coincidental. 

What If I Want to Change Lawyers?


            Dan P. called my office and asked to speak with a lawyer – he got me.  We chatted for a few minutes during which time he scratched the surface of his difficult, painful and frustrating story.

            Mr. P. is a South American immigrant who, along with his wife and other family members, came to this country to raise his family of four.  For many years he went to night school while working as a busboy to support his family.  Eventually, through hard work and sheer determination he earned his Bachelor of Science and Masters in psychology.  By the time that I spoke to him, he had been in the United States for 28 years, was a clinical psychologist and adjunct professor at a local university.      

            He had built quite a reputation in his community and was sought after as a public speaker.  Mr. P. took great pride in his appearance including his winning smile. 

How Mr. P. Was Injured

             One evening he attended a lecture at a large venue. When the lecture was over he discovered that he couldn’t remember exactly where he parked his car.  Since it was raining outside, he decided to hop a ride in a courtesy golf cart to help him find his car.

            The parking lot covered acres of ground.  The roads within the lot were nicely paved and well-lit and were bordered by large, unlit grassy knolls.  The golf car likewise did not have lights. 

            Manning the golf car was a young fellow – let’s call him “Bobby” -- with a bit of the daredevil in him.  Bobby decided the quickest way to the other side of the parking lot was through the grassy knoll. Unbeknownst to him and to Dan, there were rope barricades on the grass – i.e., keep off the grass!  However, in the darkness, he didn’t see these barricades which, quite significantly, were stretched wide and held taut by metal stanchions jammed into the ground.

            Well, as Bobby drove the cart at breakneck speed through the grass, he struck a rope with the front of the cart.  The stanchion came flying out of the ground, striking Dan P. in the mouth and knocking out four front upper teeth.

            Dan was rushed by ambulance to the hospital where he was examined by emergency room doctors.  His mouth required excruciatingly painful stitching.  He was sent home disfigured and in pain. 

Dan P. Hires a Lawyer

             Dan hired attorney Charles B. to represent him for his injuries and damages.  Mr. B. properly filed a lawsuit for damages against the property owners, Bobby and the organization for whom Bobby worked.  The property owners were sued under a theory of premises liability, Bobby under the theory of negligence and Bobby’s employers under the theories of negligence and respondeat superior.    

What Was Mr. P. Suing For?         

As you know, Dan P. was a distinguished professor of psychology and sought after public speaker.   However, what you might not know is that Dan donated most of his money to various charities – he was grateful for the opportunities that he received here in America and made it is life’s ambition to give back even more than he received to society.  So, not surprisingly, Dan had no savings and could not afford the dentures or dental implants that he so sorely needed. 

For obvious reasons, he could not continue to speak publicly.  His shame and humiliation forced him into a depression and he was unable to teach. 

There are two types of damages which apply in Dan’s case: Special damages and general damages. 

Special damages are those that are quantifiable such as past, present and future medical bills and loss of earnings.

General damages are for past, present and future physical or emotional pain and suffering, loss of companionship, loss of consortium, disfigurement, loss of reputation, loss or impairment of mental or physical capacity, loss of enjoyment of life, etc.

Mr. B. properly sued for these damages in an unspecified amount (which is appropriate in California). 

What Happened Was Pretty Standard Until Lawyer Mr. B.…           

            The matter proceeded through the normal course of litigation.  As in most personal injury cases, a mediation was conducted in an attempt to settle the matter before going to trial.  As far as the client Mr. P. knew, the matter did not settle at mediation – after all, he was present there and should know!!!

However, a few days after mediation, Attorney Mr. B. accepted an offer without P.’s authorization!  This is a huge no-no.  Aside from being in poor taste, it is an ethical violation. 

            Although the offer was for a large sum of money it was, in the client’s opinion, insufficient to compensate him for the harm that he suffered. 

            So he came to me to discuss this seemingly untenable situation.  He wanted to know if he was allowed to switch horses in midstream and, if in so doing, he would owe fees to both his original lawyer and his new lawyer.

            There was another potential major issue involved here but I wanted to first address his pressing concerns.           

Can A Client Change Lawyers While A Case Is Ongoing?

             Yes!  This is America, land of the free.  An attorney-client relationship is contractual relationship, akin to an employer-employee relationship, where the client hires the attorney to represent him or her.  If the client is dissatisfied, they are certainly welcome to go elsewhere.

            Dissatisfaction, of course, is a matter of degree and perception and can rear its ugly head in many different ways.   There have been many other instances where I’ve been approached by another lawyer’s dissatisfied client and, after a thorough analysis of their situation, I didn’t accept their case.  In most situations I realize that their lawyer is doing a good job for them, explain my reasoning and tell them that they should try to work it out with their present lawyer.

In Mr. P.’s case, though, it was my belief that he was justified in wanting to find and retain another attorney and I was willing to take his case.  He needed someone who was willing to go to the mat for him. 

Would He Owe Fees to Both Attorneys? 

Fees in personal injury cases are usually done on a contingency basis.  If a client fires one lawyer and hires another, the fee remains the same.  Once the case resolves, either by settlement or judgment, the lawyers will work out a fee split based on what we call “quantum meruit.”  All of this comes out of the proceeds of the case and does not in any way affect the client’s bottom line.

For example, if a case resolves for $250,000 and Lawyer #2 charges a fee of 40% or $100,000, then that is the total fee for the case.  Immediately upon assuming representation of the client, Lawyer #2 should contact Lawyer #1 and ask him or her for a breakdown of the time devoted to this case and at what reasonable hourly rate and an itemization of his actual costs. 

So, if Lawyer #1 legitimately has 20 hours in the case at $325 an hour, then he will be entitled to $6,500 (quantum meruit) plus his costs (separate and apart from the fee).  Lawyer #2 will take the $6,500 out of his fee and will a net of $93,500 in attorney’s fees.  There is absolutely no financial penalty to the client for changing lawyers!

The Other Potential Major Issue Facing Dan P. 

            I explained to Mr. P. that by switching attorneys mid-stream because he didn’t like the offer that was accepted not by him but by his attorney, the offering party was going to be angered.  After all, it was their justified belief that a settlement had been reached and everyone could put the matter behind them.  Armed with this information, and in spite of the potential negative response by the defense, Mr. P. decided to go ahead and retain me.

            I notified Sandra C., the defense attorney, of the following: that there was a misunderstanding, Mr. P. did not authorize the settlement, that I was stepping in as his new lawyer and we would have to commence further negotiations.

            Oh, wow, was she upset!  Her client, the defendants’ insurance company, cut their offer by 60% and basically told me to pound sand.  A new battle had begun!  The motions started flying and it looked like no settlement was in the offing.  Moral thus far: It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.

We began to prepare for trial.  Expert witnesses were retained, more depositions taken, more written discovery was exchanged.     

Shortly Before Trial in the Judge’s Chambers 

            The best part of this situation, though, was the defense attorney’s comment in the judge’s chamber during the Mandatory Settlement Conference two weeks before trial.  She said “Well, Mr. P. didn’t have such great dentition in the first place.  Sure, we knocked out his teeth but they would have fallen out in the next couple of years anyway.  In fact,” she said, “this is what our dental expert will testify to.”

            Of course I was in legal heaven at this point.  “Have at it,” I thought.  What jury is going to go along with such baseless vitriol?  Juries do not like to see the injured victim attacked – especially one like Mr. P., a family man who worked his way up from busboy to adjunct professor.  I was going to have fun at trial. 

Defense Comes To Their Senses

             Unfortunately, though, the defense came to their senses about 10 days before trial by way of a very powerful tool, the Statutory Offer to Compromise (per California Code of Civil Procedure Section 998) and increased their initial "accepted" offer by almost double. Mr. P. decided to take it instead of risking the uncertainty of trial.  

When Can A Client Switch Lawyers?

            A client can switch lawyers anytime he or she wants to.  Although the client need not have actual grounds for dismissing his or her attorney and retaining someone else, here are some common situations that a client may encounter upon which the change is predicated: 

·         An attorney's conflict of interest

·         Differing case strategies or personality conflicts

·         A change in the pleadings or parties of the case

·         A change of the court hearing the case (change in venue)

·         Expanded legal needs 

Whatever the reason, it is important that the client inform their current attorney of their intention to move on.  This can be done by certified letter, e-mail or, as often happens in personal injury cases, the new attorney will notify the former attorney that they are now representing the client.

Further, if a lawsuit has already been filed in the case, the court must be notified of the new representation by way of a Substitution of Attorney Form signed by the client, his/her former attorney and the new attorney.

Mr. P. was not dissimilar in his discomfort in notifying his soon-to-be former attorney that he was retaining new counsel. Therefore, at his request, I notified the former attorney and asked him to send me Mr. P.’s entire file immediately which, of course, he did. 

Does the Former Attorney Have Continuing Duties to the Client? 

In a word, “yes.”  Immediately upon termination of the attorney-client relationship, the attorney’s actual authority to act on the client’s behalf is terminated.  However, he or she still has several continuing obligations to the client:


·         Protecting the Client’s Interest: If the client has not already found a new attorney, the soon-to-be-discharged attorney must explain the potential consequences of ending the relationship to the client, help find another attorney to handle the case, and return the client’s property and papers to the client.  If the client has found another attorney, then the property and papers must be delivered without delay to the new attorney.

·         Complying With Deadlines: If imminent deadlines are facing the client, the attorney may be required to get the court’s permission to extend the deadline or continue representation so that the deadline will be complied with.

·         Protecting Confidential Information: Protecting the client’s confidence continues even after representation ends!

·         Treating the Client Fairly: The former lawyer cannot use information obtained through the attorney-client relationship to take unfair advantage of the client.

 Injured? Questions? Concerns? 

For a Free Consultation please contact Attorney Lowell Steiger immediately at

(323) 852-1100

[email protected]

Skype (with or without video): Lowell_Steiger

"Treated With the Respect and Understanding That You Deserve"



June 17, 2007

Disbarred Prosecutors: Nifong Not First to Go Down

Mike_nifong Despite public perception that lawyers are not held accountable for their actions, State Bar disciplinary committees have historically kept our profession in line.  Of course, the Duke University debacle starring now disgraced and disbarred prosecutor Mike Nifong, is currently the most notable.  His flagrant zealous and dishonest prosecution of three Duke University Lacrosse Team Members appears to have been for his own political gain.  Several stories are currently in the news breaking out in excruciating detail the havoc that he wreaked on the innocent players, their families, Duke University and more. Interesting articles abound on the net and here are links to just a few:  MSNBCNewsday.com, AM New York, Wall Street Journal which also includes a link to the actual North Carolina State Bar Complaint against Nifong, and Reuters

Prosecutorial Disbarments in the Past

Mike Nifong is not the only prosecutor to go down in disgrace. It is important, in my opinion, to note that the State Bar Associations throughout the United States take attorney ethical violations very seriously and act accordingly upon them.  Here is a smattering of previous disbarments, along with links to relevant articles:

California: 1998, Former Prosecutor Disbarred After Setting DA's Office on Fire

Florida: 2007, Florida Attorney Louis Robles Disbarred After Stealing Millions from Clients

California: 2003, Former Orange County Prosecutor Disbarred For Drug Trafficking

New York: 2005, Ex-Prosecutor Suspended for Misleading Trial Court (for lying to a judge about the whereabouts of a witness in a murder trial he was conducting three years ago).  Also discussed in David Feige's Blogspot

The American Bar Association Center for Professional Responsibility provides links to the Professional Responsibility pages of all State Bar Websites.

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