Monthly Archives: March 2015

New York ethics opinion provides guidance for lawyers regarding the ethical implications of attorney profiles and content on LinkedIn

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent New York ethics opinion which provides guidance to lawyers who use LinkedIn.com for professional enhancement as well as the ethical implications of attorney profiles.  The opinion is New York County Lawyers Association Professional Ethics Committee Formal Opinion 748 (March 10, 2015) and the link to the formal opinion is here: https://www.nycla.org/siteFiles/Publications/Publications1748_0.pdf

As the opinion notes, LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking website which has become popular and is now commonly used by lawyers.  LinkedIn allows a lawyer to create a profile with background information, including work history and education, and links to other users based on their experience or connections.  Lawyers can also use the site to communicate with acquaintances, locate someone with a particular skill or background or to keep up with other lawyers’ professional activities and job changes.  The lawyer can also publish educational information on the site’s home page or create separate LinkedIn page.  I have a LinkedIn blog page which is here: https://www.linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=4043538&trk=groups_most_recent-h-logo

The opinion cautions that a lawyer’s content may be an advertisement and that New York Rule of Professional Conduct 7.1 prohibits attorneys and law firms from disseminating an advertisement that contains false or misleading statements and/or claims.  The term “advertisement” includes “communications made in any form about the lawyer’s services, the primary purpose of which is retention of the lawyer or law firm for pecuniary gain as a result of the communication.”

The New York rule permits attorneys to include educational experience, but prohibits undisclosed paid endorsements and fictitious portrayals or references to lawyers not associated with the firm.  The New York rule also requires online content which is an advertisement to be labeled as “Attorney Advertising” and advertisements must also include a disclaimer that results are not guaranteed.

The opinion concludes that “(a)ttorneys may maintain profiles on LinkedIn, containing information such as education, work history, areas of practice, skills, and recommendations written by other LinkedIn users. A LinkedIn profile that contains only one’s education and current and past employment does not constitute Attorney Advertising. If an attorney includes additional information in his or her profile, such as a description of areas of practice or certain skills or endorsements, the profile may be considered Attorney Advertising, and should contain the disclaimers set forth in Rule 7.1. Categorizing certain information under the heading ‘Skills’ or ’Endorsements’ does not, however, constitute a claim to be a ‘Specialist’ under Rule 7.4, and is accordingly not barred, provided that the information is truthful and accurate.”

“Attorneys must ensure that all information in their LinkedIn profiles is truthful and not misleading, including endorsements and recommendations written by other LinkedIn users. If an attorney believes an endorsement or recommendation is not accurate, the attorney should exclude it from his or her profile. New York lawyers should periodically monitor and review the content of their LinkedIn profiles for accuracy.”

Bottom line:  As the opinion states, lawyers should carefully monitor their social media content to insure that it complies with the ethics rules in the lawyer’s jurisdiction(s).  If a communication is primarily intended to obtain clients and for pecuniary gain (and contains information that goes beyond the “tombstone language” permitted in that jurisdiction), the communication will most likely be considered to be an advertisement and all relevant rules of advertising must be followed.  This would efforts to insure that all information is accurate, that the content is not misleading, and the inclusion of any relevant disclaimers.  The Florida Bar’s advertising rules are similar to New York’s; however, lawyers in jurisdictions other than New York should not rely on this opinion and must review and comply with the relevant advertising rules.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Attorney Ethics, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer ethics opinions, Lawyer ethics opinions Linkedin.com, Lawyer responsibilities AVVO and Linkedin, Lawyer social media ethics, Lawyers and social media

Illinois imposes one year suspension on (former) law firm partner who falsified and received $69,800.00 in client expense reimbursement

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Illinois Supreme Court Order which imposed a one year suspension on a law firm partner who falsified and received $69,800.00 in client expense reimbursement claims.  The case is In re: Lee Mark Smolen, Disciplinary Commission, M.R.27199, No. 2013PR00060 (March 12, 2015).  The summary disciplinary Order is here: http://www.state.il.us/court/SupremeCourt/Announce/2015/031215.pdf

As I reported in my January 12, 2015 Ethics Alert, a law firm audit found that the lawyer had submitted $69,800.00 in falsified taxi expenses and questioned an additional $379,000.00 reimbursed expenses.  The lawyer admitted that he “falsified and submitted for reimbursement more than 800 receipts for cab rides he did not take. He further admits he received reimbursement totaling $69,800 for the fabricated receipts.”

According to the Hearing Board Report, the expenses were charged to an unallocated client account which was “virtually unmonitored”.  The lawyer agreed that the law firm could withdraw $400,000.00 from his account to cover the expenses and the cost of the audit and he testified he used the cab money to pay for client entertainment, saving the time of making out expense reports.  He testified that he only slept three or four hours a night and typically spent 12 to 15 hours a day at work.

The Report further stated that the lawyer’s “mental health issues and his misconduct” were considered and one doctor opined there was a “loose association” between the lawyer’s personality disorder and his misconduct because the lawyer “was excessively devoted to work as a result of his obsessive-compulsive disorder.”  Another doctor stated that the lawyer’s depressive disorder and anxiety disorder led to “tremendous impairment of judgment” which led to the misconduct.  Both doctors found that the lawyer’s mental health played at least a minor role in his misconduct and gave it “some weight” as a mitigating factor.

 

According to the Report:  “We recognize that the amount of Respondent’s falsified expenses is greater than the amounts in the (cited) cases but in light of (the lawyer’s) significant mitigation we do not believe a suspension of more than one year is warranted.  We believe a one-year suspension addresses the severity of the misconduct and also takes into consideration the substantial mitigating factors.”

The Report recommended that (the lawyer) be suspended for one year and until he completed at least twelve months of continuous treatment with a psychiatrist. The lawyer’s suspension would terminate after one year if he “demonstrates his completion of treatment to the Administrator’s satisfaction.”  The Illinois Supreme Court adopted the Report and suspended the lawyer for one year with the recommended conditions.

Bottom line:  As I said previously, this lawyer admitted that he falsified and submitted for reimbursement more than 800 receipts for cab rides he did not take and received payment for nearly $70,000.00 from clients for the fabricated receipts.  An audit also questioned an additional $379,000.00 in reimbursed expenses.  In light of the large amount of the lawyer’s admitted misappropriation, it is surprising that the Board did not recommend disbarment for the misconduct and also that the Illinois Supreme Court approved the one year suspension recommendation.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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U.S. Supreme Court opinion finds that there is no automatic antitrust immunity for state professional licensing boards

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent interesting U.S. Supreme Court opinion which found that there is no automatic antitrust immunity for professional licensing boards.  The case is North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission, No. 13–534. (USSC February 25, 2015) and the opinion is here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/13-534_19m2.pdf.

According to the opinion, similar to many states, the North Carolina legislature delegated the regulation of dentists to a state dental board.  By state law, practicing dentists must fill a majority of the seats on the dental board and the board’s actions are not supervised by any state officials. The board moved to exclude non-dentists from the market for teeth-whitening services after dentists complained about the low prices that non-dentists charged for teeth whitening.  The board sent letters to non-dentists who offered teeth-whitening services demanding that they stop and encouraged malls to remove kiosks used for non-dentist teeth whitening services.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed an administrative complaint alleging that the board’s move to exclude non-dentists from the market for teeth whitening services in North Carolina was an unfair method of competition under the Federal Trade Commission Act.  An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied the Board’s motion to dismiss on the ground of state-action immunity.

 

The FTC affirmed the ruling, finding that even if the board had acted pursuant to a clearly articulated state policy to displace competition, it must be actively supervised by the state to claim immunity, which it was not.  After a hearing on the merits, the ALJ determined that the board had unreasonably restrained trade in violation of antitrust law.  The FTC again affirmed the ALJ, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed the FTC.

In a 6-3 opinion written by Justice Kennedy, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Fourth Circuit’s decision, holding that the board is not immune from the antitrust laws.  The USSC opinion states that, even though the board is an agency of the state, its actions must be supervised by the state in order to have antitrust immunity. The “formal designation given by the States” does not itself create immunity. The board in this case is controlled by market participants in the same occupation as those whom the board regulates.  “When a State empowers a group of active market participants to decide who can participate in its market, and on what terms, the need for supervision is manifest.”

 

According to the opinion, the requirement of state supervision applies to agencies “controlled by active market participants” and actions taken by boards with no involvement from market participants may not have to satisfy the supervision requirement.  The opinion also identifies factors regarding adequate state supervision, including the requirement that the state supervisor must actually review the substance of the agency’s actions and have the power to overrule or modify those actions.

Bottom line:  There has been prior litigation against state Bar entities past attacking the their state action immunity.  This opinion refers to three specific cases and appears to suggest that these cases should be interpreted to mean that only the actions of a Bar entity which are actively supervised by the state (i.e. the supreme court) should have antitrust immunity; however, the rest of a Bar entity’s actions may not have such immunity.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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