Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : June 2006

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WORK/LIFE
SUPPORT

MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program

A Dose of Reality

~The responsibility and benefits in preparing for the unexpected~

If you go through the tumbler of life, you can come out crushed or polished.

- Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, MD

Most individuals (lawyers included) will deal with loss, trauma and change at some point in their lives. It is part of being human. Ironically, another frequent human trait is ignoring unpleasant thoughts such as disaster, catastrophe, mishaps, misfortune, illness or even death. Accordingly, by ignoring same, we fail to prepare for the day that unexpected illness, disaster, catastrophe, mishap, misfortune or even death may prevent us from executing our responsibilities as lawyers: the law office, clients, deadlines or staff. Are you prepared for such unexpected events?

Some Practicing Myths

  • Bad things happen to other lawyers
  • I am strong; I can handle my law practice when and if disaster strikes
  • I'll do that tomorrow
  • I have malpractice insurance; that is my preparation
  • If I don't think about it, then there is nothing to be concerned about.

A Dose of Reality
Examples of unexpected events can range from a potential flu pandemic, hurricanes, an automobile accident, a sudden heart-attack, a brief illness and death. As a lawyer, such human trauma can cause countless problems, both personally and in the workplace. Therefore, as we travel through life, experiencing both the expected and unexpected turns and bumps, we have two options: to be crushed or polished. Unfortunately, anxiety and avoidance are among the primary reasons that many attorneys fail to plan for an untimely disaster. Fortunately, however, the astute attorney will realize that it is never too late. The end result depends on us.

Steps to Take
Knowing that this is a problem that is often left for the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland to address, Bar Counsel Melvin Hirshman recently shared an important step and tip from Marcia L. Proctor in an issue of the American Bar Association's magazine, GPSOLO:

In the event that I become incapacitated or otherwise unavailable to handle your presentation matter to completion, please be advised that I have made arrangements with {back-up lawyer} or {name of firm} law offices to complete the matter. If you have objections to {back-up lawyer's participation}, or if {back-up lawyer} is unable to handle the matter at time time, {back-up lawyer} will arrange for other counsel to handle the matter. {Back-up lawyer} will not receive any information about your representation until and unless (1) I become unable to proceed, (2) you consent to {back-up lawyer's} representation and (3) {back-up lawyer} is able to handle the matter at such time.

Additionally, listed below are some of the basic forms that are available through the MSBA's Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP). These forms can assist in protecting your client's interests and will even help you to make your practice a valuable asset that can be sold to benefit you or your estate. In addition, it will simplify the closure of your office – a step your family and personal representative will very much appreciate.

  • Checklist for Lawyers Planning to Protect Clients' Interest in the Event of the Lawyer's Death, Disability, Impairment or Incapacity;
  • Checklist for Closing Another Attorney's Office
  • Checklist for Closing Your Own Office
  • Sample forms
  • Articles, Rules Formal Opinions and other Resources

In the final analysis, the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct do not state specifically that a lawyer must prepare for the expected, or unexpected, turns in life. However, the legal profession in Maryland is self-governing. Accordingly, professionalism and trust are at the center of the lawyer-client relationship. While perhaps the most serious and utterly debilitating mental and physical health conditions may be considered a root cause for an attorney's inability to conform to his duties, failure to adequately prepare for a day that you will not be able to advocate for your client can and will breach the trust that is developed in the lawyer-client relationship. Conversely, when a lawyer plans for such events, he or she will experience both the benefits and the polish of being proactive rather than reactive.

In fact, LAP can help. Responding to human trauma in the workplace has become a crucial service offered by LAP. Attorneys, supervisors, paralegals, law office administrators and staff can turn to the free and confidential lawyer assistance professional for guidance and consultation. In other words, those in Maryland's legal community can find LAP's services a great source of comfort and assistance.

For more information about your responsibility to prepare for the unexpected, to request a packet of information or to learn how you can help another attorney who is experiencing difficulty, call the MSBA's Lawyer Assistance Program at (410) 685-7878 or (800) 492-1964, ext. 3041, or e-mail cwaldhauser@msba.org.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: June 2006

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