Jen's Tip of the Month
This week marked the passing of another Be Kind to Your Lawyer Day. Unfortunately, this holiday is often forgotten because some lawyers are less than loveable.
In order to make sure the profession can get more hugs, the Arizona Supreme Court has spelled out ethical rules all lawyers must follow. As part of the Bar exam, every new lawyer must study these ethical rules and pass a special ethics test.
Some of the Supreme Court's ethical rules are employed every day in handling claims for you. For example, every time you send a file to an attorney, a conflict check must be run. This is because under Ethical Rule 1.7, a lawyer can't take on representation of a party if that representation will conflict with the representation of an existing client.
Every law firm maintains a data base with names of people and businesses that have been clients in other matters. When you send a new matter to our office, we will run a conflict check by passing all of the names related to your new matter through our database. Sometimes a conflict arises that is waivable, if both sides agree, whereas other conflicts are not.
The ethical rules dealing with conflicts also have an impact on Plaintiff attorneys. Under Ethical Rule 1.8, a Plaintiff attorney representing multiple claimants can't negotiate a combined settlement, unless each claimant gives informed consent in writing to their attorney. This is why opposing counsel may not want to divide up a policy limits settlement among his own clients.
As attorneys, communication is an integral part of our job. Ethical Rule 1.4 requires your lawyer to keep you informed. Your lawyer is supposed to notify you about the status of the matter and provide explanations so that you can make informed decisions. Unfortunately, not all lawyers take the time to write reports or communicate with their clients so violations of this Rule are the subject of the most Bar complaints.
Finally, Ethical Rule 1.6, outlines the confidentiality that exists between attorneys and their clients. This can be a tricky rule for insurance defense attorneys because we serve 2 masters - the insurance company and the insured. While we have a duty to keep you informed, your lawyer should never reveal something he or she learned from the insured that might impact coverage. When a conflict arises, the insured always prevails. This ethical rule is also why you often need to split your file and why it's important that we establish from the outset the scope of our representation.
If you want to talk more about these ethical rules, give me a call. And, don't forget to send hugs too. My office number is: 602.234.7805.
Jennifer Erickson recently joined Jennings Haug Cunningham where she continues to practice in the area of insurance defense and coverage. Her client focus is on the education of claims adjusters. Over the years, Jen has designed dozens of training programs and is the founder and lead instructor of Claims University, which provides fun and interactive classes for adjusters at all levels.
If you would like to discuss training needs for your organization, please contact Jen directly at 602-234-7805.