Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Client Risks: Evaluation, Selection, Conflicts and More

The Law for Lawyers Today calls out a 60 Minutes "sting-style" story on law firm client evaluation which made news a few weeks ago: "60 Minutes segment shows ethics issues in client representation" --
  • "The set-up:  Potential client calls you on the phone.  He says he is representing a government minister from a mineral-rich West African nation — he won’t say which one.  But his (unnamed) principal needs legal help in order to move millions of dollars into the U.S. — consisting of what the representative candidly describes as “tainted money” and “gray money;” actually, bribes the government minister has received in exchange for grants of mineral rights. Do you take the bait and schedule a meeting to discuss representing the client?  Do you accept an engagement?"
  • "That, in fact, was the set-up for the 60 Minutes segment on money-laundering and the U.S. legal system on January 31; you can watch it here. Of course, the “representative” of the unnamed West Africa government official was in fact an imposter who was working with Global Witness, a British-based public advocacy group.  But shockingly, 13 law firms scheduled meetings with the supposed client to discuss representing his anonymous principal.  That was out of 50 firms the imposter called."
  • "I don’t think that 75 percent is anything to brag about, necessarily.  Lawyers need to be far more responsive to the big red flags that were abundant in the fake scenario portrayed in the videos:  unnamed African countries, anonymous principals, and above all, money that was candidly described as 'tainted.'"
The ABA took series issue:"ABA President Paulette Brown responds to '60 Minutes' segment" --
  • "The ABA’s positions were grossly misrepresented in the segment.  The association is committed to the elimination of money laundering and has worked diligently with federal and state governments, international law enforcement agencies, and state and local bars to find the best ways to achieve this goal."
  • "In 2002 the ABA created a Task Force on Gatekeeper Regulation and the Profession, to specifically look at money laundering, enforcement and the attorney-client relationship; to review association policy and the relevant Model Rules of Professional Conduct; and make recommendations regarding new policy and programs. This remains an active Task Force."
  • "The “60 Minutes” segment showed only initial meetings, the first stage of a process.  It did not even involve the potential client’s name or country of origin."
Next, via Donald Best in Canada: "When big law firm lawyers won’t say ‘No’ to unethical demands from major clients" -- "Canadian Bar Association’s Ethics Forum underlines why ordinary citizens should involve themselves in the discussion. Legal Ethics are too important to be left to the legal profession alone."

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