The New Jersey Supreme Court just sanctioned an Immigration Lawyerfor sharing fees with a paralegal. This is a good lesson to be reminded of, particularly in these difficult economic times. As attorneys we are bound by higher standards than regular business people in the context of business development. Among the many “special” rules we must live by is one that prohibits fee sharing with non-lawyers. Sometimes that means we cannot do things that make economic sense.
Ethics Rules, The Economy, and the Practice of Law
We have to balance our desire to provide for our families, with the rules we must live by. We all seek to not only provide the most zealous representation to our clients, but also to make a living while doing so. More than 60% of AILA members are solo practitioners or part of small law firms. That means that we are the engine that drives our own economic success.
When times are lean, some lawyers, unfortunately forget their ethical obligations and how deep those obligations run. A simple reminder, every now and then, of what those obligations entail is not a bad thing.
This is where it is also important to understand the ethics rules in the jurisdiction where you are practicing. There are many AILA members who practice law in a state in which they are not licensed, on the theory that they are practicing federal law. While I personally disagree with that, I will leave that discussion for another day. One thing that is clear is that if a lawyer is practicing law, he is subject to the disciplinary rules in his “home” barred state, as well as the state in which he principally practices. Many of us know that ethics rules vary, sometimes greatly, state by state. This is particularly true as to both fee sharing with attorneys and with advertising. To avoid any issues with the Bar of the state in which you are practicing, read the ethics rules again to make sure you are doing what is required.
As we all move forward in the new economy, lets keep the standards of AILA lawyers high, and be the example to the rest of our colleagues in the bar.