Friday, December 14, 2007
Practice Management Concerns Raised at Disciplinary Process Hearing
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Attorneys requested that more attention be paid to the growing role of law practice management issues in complaints of attorney malpractice at a public hearing yesterday on the State Bar of California’s attorney disciplinary, competency and admissions procedures.
Citing the rising number of discipline cases involving law practice management issues, Gordon Grunfeld, vice chair of the State Bar Law Practice Management & Technology section requested that the bar conduct a study over the next year into the areas of attorney discipline, competence and admissions in order to identify ways in which to address the growing problem.
Grunfeld said the group, which is “exclusively devoted to the practical aspects of starting, growing and prospering” in law practices, according to the State Bar Web site, had singularly concluded that imparting knowledge of how to run a practice was at the heart of many of the disclosure and competence issues that harmed the public. He also said that the group, which is made of individuals involved in one manner or another with the practice of law on a daily basis, recommended that the bar study the “multi-faceted” problem over the coming year.
Grunfeld conceded that the appointment of a “blue-ribbon commission” was generally the best way to delay actually doing anything in a bureaucratic environment. Nevertheless, he said that studying how disciplinary problems arise in connection with law practice management was necessary in order to combat the problem.
He suggested leveraging technology to help attorneys who faced discipline over practice management issues, and requiring new attorneys to attend a course on malpractice and discipline, a requirement he said was already imposed in other jurisdictions.
Attorney Ed Poll agreed, saying that the State Bar’s elimination of practice management as a continuing education requirement a few years ago sent a message that the subject was not important. He proposed specifically designating practice management as one of the general units of credit required to be completed by California attorneys.
Grunfeld said that his group was not opposed to Poll’s suggestion, and supported efforts to offer educational programs that were both enjoyable and useful. However, he expressed concerns about expanding the scope of the topic too far, and pointed to other jurisdictions which grant continuing education credit for courses on expanding a practice to warn against granting credit for “marketing” programs.
Ellen Pansky, who represents lawyers in disciplinary proceedings, also agreed with Grunfeld about disciplinary proceedings arising from practice management issues, but she cautioned that lawyers in disciplinary proceedings are presumed innocent and are entitled to an opportunity to be heard, and should not face hostility merely on the basis of accusations.
She said this was especially important in the context of attorneys who made purely “bookkeeping” mistakes in relation to trust accounts after having never received practice management training.
In separate testimony, attorney Carolyn Magnuson urged that State Bar Court proceedings be made more open to the public, noting that she attended a recent hearing before the court, but only after being required to pass through three separate checkpoints and being given incorrect information about the proceeding by staff members.
She called Chief Justice Ronald George’s decision to post the court’s calendar a good first step, but urged the bar to go further and remove all barriers to members of the public who wished to attend the proceedings.
The hearing, which took place in Los Angeles, was the second of the State Bar’s two annual hearings on the process. The first hearing took place in San Francisco on Dec. 4.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company