Saturday, March 20, 2010

How not to practice law: let the client dictate (bad) strategy

A few minutes ago, I posted a new addition to our list of examples of how NOT to practice law. Here is yet another one: allow a rich client with a lot of disposable income to dictate a litigation strategy designed to harass the opponent with excessive and improper discovery requests. In a recent case, reported in the Legal Profession blog (here), this (and other instances of miscounduct) cost the attorney a suspension and restitution of fees.

As is often the case in these "how not to practice law" cases, the underlying principle is a basic one. It is the lawyer's responsibility to tell the client when the client's goals are improper. Along these lines, in this case the hearing committee concluded that "[t]he respondent should have done far more than he did to restrain the client's overzealous pursuit of discovery with realistic, focused, and independent professional advice. Instead, the respondent voiced only limited objections and then continued to pursue the client's hopelessly excessive and improper discovery requests. Given the misguided strategy, the high fees generated little or no value for the client. While much of the respondent's work in this misdirected pursuit was competent, the cases went nowhere and the work was ultimately wasted. The gravamen of the misconduct here is that the respondent placed his interest in retaining a profitable client ahead of his professional duties as a member of the bar to effectively counsel clients and provide diligent, competent representation. As a result, the client's cases never advanced beyond discovery disputes despite the passage of years and the payment of high fees."

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