Avoiding unethical attorneys

ambulance chaserPersonal injury attorneys hate hearing phrases like “Ambulance Chasers” and don’t like being called sharks. Sadly however, there are unethical attorneys out there  and they give us all a bad name.  For instance, a New Jersey attorney and paralegal are in hot water for assisting a pair of chiropractors in the operation of a personal injury mill. The chiropractors, who were brothers, paid “runners” $1000 to obtain accident reports, find accident victims, then bring them in for treatment.  The attorney and paralegal involved paid the practicing brothers to meet with their patients and accept insurance settlements on their behalf. You can read more about this story here.

This type of solicitation is completely unethical per rules set by the American Bar Association.

Be wary if you are contacted by a personal injury attorney by the following methods:
  • In person, live telephone or real time electronic contact, unless the attorney is a family member, close friend, or you’ve had a prior professional relationship with the attorney.
  • The attorney tries to solicit a professional relationship in person, writing, or by recorded or electronic communication if you have already stated that you are not interested in their services.
  • By coercion, duress, or harassment.

Any unsolicited written, recorded or electronic communication from an attorney requesting to provide you with legal services must include “Advertising Material” on the outside of the envelope, and at the beginning and end of any recorded or electronic communication, unless, once again you are a family member, friend, or have a prior professional relationship.

Exceptions to this would be:
  1. If the attorney is offering their services Pro Bono, or, free.
  2. If you subscribe to a prepaid or group legal service plan, such as LegalShield, you’ve requested assistance on a legal matter, and the attorney is a participating attorney under your plan.
The best ways to find an attorney are through:

If you’re approached by an attorney and their tactics seem questionable, they probably are. Attorneys who will disregard ethics to gain clients are only looking out for one person’s interests – their own.

Sexual harassment in the workplace

sexual harassmentDonald Trump’s lewd video with Billy Bush once again brings his treatment of women to the forefront. Numerous lawsuits have been filed against Donald Trump and his companies with regard to sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. This isn’t breaking news either. Accusations against Trump and his upper echelon staff members date back at least 20 years.

Trump may make light of his behavior and call his vulgar conversation with Bush “locker room talk,” but sexual harassment and mistreatment of women is no laughing matter. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from sexual harassment. Unfortunately, even with legal protections, many employees still encounter this type of behavior in the workplace.

There are two types of sexual harassment.
  1. Quid pro quo:
    1. Submission to sexual harassment is a term or condition of employment.
    2. Submission to or rejection of such behaviors are used as a basis for employment decisions.
    3. Examples of Quid pro quo sexual harassment:
      1. Demanding sexual favors for a promotion or raise.
      2. Disciplining or firing a subordinate who ends a romance.
      3. Changing work standards after a subordinate refuses repeated requests for a date.
  2. Hostile work environment:
    1. Sexual harassment makes your workplace environment intimidating, hostile, or offensive.
    2. Examples of behaviors that can create a hostile environment:
      1. Verbal
        1. Sexual jokes or insults.
        2. Comments about a person’s body or sex life.
        3. Sexually demeaning comments.
      2. Non-Verbal
        1. Gestures or staring.
        2. Display of sexually suggestive or degrading materials.
        3. Giving sexually suggestive “gifts”.
      3. Physical
        1. Touching, hugging, kissing or patting.
        2. Brushing against a person’s body.
        3. Blocking a person’s movement.
What to do if sexually harassed at work
  1. Follow company policy: Look up your employer’s policy on sexual harassment and follow the procedures.
  2. Write everything down: Note the date, time, and place of each incident, what was said and done, and who witnessed the actions.
  3. Speak up: Let the other party know that his or her behavior is offensive and unwanted and ask them to stop.
  4. Tell a supervisor or human resources department: According to the Supreme Court, you must report sexual harassment before you can sue. Your employer needs a chance to fix the situation before taking the next step. Put it in writing as well. Everything should be documented.
  5. File a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): If you’ve followed company policy and reported harassment at work and the employer doesn’t or won’t take action, file with the EEOC. The EEOC will notify your employer that you have filed a charge and will begin an investigation into your complaint. You are legally protected from retaliation if you file a harassment charge with the EEOC.
  6. Litigation: If the EEOC issues a “right to sue” letter, you may bring a civil lawsuit for any damages you suffered due to the sexual harassment. You do not need to show physical injuries.  The most common injuries in a sexual harassment case are the emotional injuries suffered by the victim.

 

Courts consider the following when ruling on a hostile work environment:
  1. Was the conduct verbal, physical, or both?
  2. Frequency of conduct in question.
  3. Was the conduct hostile or patently offensive?
  4. Is the alleged harasser a co-worker or supervisor?
  5. Did others joined in perpetrating the harassment?
  6. Was the harassment directed at more than one individual?
A legal recovery may include:
  • Reinstatement, if job loss occurred;
  • Back pay;
  • Damages for emotional distress;
  • Policies or training to stop harassment may be required of your employer; and
  • Attorney’s fees and court costs.

If you’ve been sexually harassed at work, whether man or woman, or same-sex harassment, don’t be afraid to report it. Retaliation is also unlawful under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Your Rights as a Patient

patient safety

One of the awareness weeks in March is dedicated to patient safety. It is designed to increases patient safety for both medical professionals and the public. Part of being safe, as a patient, is realizing you have rights when under the care of a hospital or physician. Hospital visits can sometimes feel like a prison sentence. Medical staff can be intimidating whether intentional or not.  Patients often feel like they have no say in their care. However, that’s not true. The following is a list of your rights as a patient.

  1. You have the right to say no.  You can refuse to be observed, examined, tested, or treated.  Keep in mind, however, you should know the ramifications if you are considering refusing treatment. If you’re uncomfortable with a staff member, you can also say “no” and ask for someone else to treat you.  One exception to this right may be in case of an emergency when time is of the essence. 
  2. You have the right to take part in your treatment plan. Find out your options and help make informed decisions.  If you are unable to make your own decisions, family members, guardians, or a representative you have chosen can make the decisions for you.
  3. You have the right to have an advocate by your side at all times.  It can be a friend or family member, or you can hire a professional advocate.  Visiting hours are hospital imposed, not government imposed.  There are hospital areas that might be restricted to guests such as, recovery rooms, trauma centers, and quarantined areas. For information about professional advocates click here.
  4. You have the right to the visitors you choose.  You can designate anyone you want to visit as long as you provide signed documentation and the request complies with hospital policies.
  5. You have the right to an ethics consultation.  For example, if there is a family disagreement about life support.  Consults may include medical staff, a patient representative or other professionals, along with the patient and/or family.
  6. You have the right to be made as comfortable as possible.  Lights can be turned off.  You should be able to get out of bed and walk or at least sit in a chair several times daily.  You even have the right to be moved to a different room if there is a vacancy.  
  7. You have the right to considerate, respectable care from medical staff free from discrimination.
  8. You have the right to see your medical records.  State and federal laws allow you to see and receive copies of your records (psychotherapy notes excluded).  You have a right to look at your medical chart as well during your stay.  Just ask.  This right also includes your billing records.  Itemized bills that will include services provided, products, medications, and procedures for which you’re charged during your stay can be requested.  You also have the right to keep your records confidential or to be changed if incorrect, irrelevant, or incomplete.
  9. You have the right to know who is treating you.  Doctors and nurses should wear nametags that include their medical degree.  If they don’t, you have the right to ask them their job title and qualifications.  
  10. You have the right to check out.  You can check out of the hospital any time, even against doctor recommendation.  It may not be in your best interest, and you will have to sign an “Against Medical Advice” form, but it’s still your right
  11. You have the right to complain.  You also have the right to a fair, fast, and objective review of your complaints regarding health plan, doctors, hospitals, or other health care personnel.

Many hospitals have a copy of  the Patients’ Bill of Rights. You may request a copy when you’re admitted.

Know your rights and implement them if and when needed.  Don’t be intimidated by the health care system. They are there to help you

7 Ethical Considerations of Legal Blogging

Blogging has the potential of being a great networking and outreach tool for attorneys.  Communicating informationBlogging ethics to potential clients, finding referral sources, and website SEO are possible benefits of legal blogging. However, when attorneys post articles to their websites, it is their job to ensure they are not crossing an ethical boundary. Certain risks go hand in hand with attorney blogs. I’m going to touch on seven of them.

  1. Advertising

The primary purpose of a legal blog should be to share information with the public. Finding clients and referrals sources should be secondary to sharing legal knowledge, legal news and data. If a firm or attorney endorses their skills and results on their blog, especially if it’s often or the sole focus of the blog, it could be regarded as advertising. Any blog with the possibility of being considered as such is subject to the bar association’s ethical rules of conduct regarding advertising. Also, if there is a “contact” call to action within a blog, it’s best to follow the ethical rules of advertising.

  1. Defamation

There is a fine line between opinion and defamation. Be careful about sharing opinions about others. It’s best not to engage in personal attacks of other attorneys, judges, experts, clients, and the like. Yes, of course you are allowed your First Amendment Right of free speech, but if you’re going to write about a person, ensure you are writing facts and not falsehoods. Refrain from posting anything that would be injurious to another individual’s or organization’s reputation.

  1. Blogging About Clients

If you want to blog about a client or their case, always get written permission. Informed consent is imperative. Out of courtesy to the client, allow them to read a copy for approval before posting. A client may find some content too sensitive or personal to post. It’s probably best not to use a client’s name, even with permission. Also ensure posts do not violate the duty of confidentiality and/or loyalty. If the case has been resolved and has a confidentiality clause, make certain none of the restricted information makes its way into the blog.

  1. 3rd Party Comments

The anonymity individuals have on the internet make it easier to post hateful and injurious comments. If comments are allowed on a legal blog, they should always be moderated. Comments that could be deemed as offensive, attacking, or which are disparaging or libelous should not be posted.

  1. Legal advice or attorney/client relationship

Always consider if your posts could be misconstrued as legal advice to readers or if any information you give to readers could be considered as the establishment of an attorney/client relationship. Since electronic communications can be used to form an attorney/client relationship, steps should be taken to ensure your blog isn’t misinterpreted. A good way to do this is to post a disclaimer. Make sure it states that the blog should not be construed as legal advice and that there is no professional relationship between reader and blog writer.

  1. Ghostwriting

Opinions differ regarding ghostwriting on legal blogs. Some attorneys condemn the practice as misleading to readers. On the other hand, many attorneys use ghostwriters and don’t think it’s unethical at all since most attorneys don’t write most of their own legal pleadings, letters, and similar items. If attorneys are using ghostwriters, one way to stay on the side of ethics is to be transparent by using a byline for the post writer. Wording such as, “writing on behalf of…” is another option. If there are a number of contributing writers, another possibility is to state the blog is penned by the firm as a whole.  The important thing is to not deceive readers.

  1. Copyrighted materials

Make sure if you’re using someone else’s copyrighted materials that either they are part of the public domain, permission is obtained, or in the case of stock images, legal licensing is purchased. Writers, artists and stock photo companies are very protective of their rights. There are many websites that have images without charge or for purchase, that are free attribution. Site such as Flickr, allows you to use images as long as the owner/artist gets attribution. Don’t find yourself on the wrong side of an intellectual property lawsuit.

Blogging and social media is still a fairly new marketing strategy for attorneys. It’s best to apply ethical rules regarding advertising and client privacy and confidentiality to legal blogs.  Also, use words carefully when blogging as not to come across as attacking, libelous, misleading or offensive. Ensure the language used cannot be misconstrued, used as legal advice or, from a reader’s standpoint, viewed as an attorney/client relationship. Ask questions. If you’re unsure, it’s best to contact your state bar association for clarification. It’s better to air on the side of caution than to risk disbarment or the reputation of your firm.