Category Archives: Ethics & Professionalism

How to Avoid Legal Malpractice Claims


Over the last few decades, the incidence of legal malpractice claims has greatly increased as more clients have begun to sue their attorneys for substandard work.  There are many reasons to explain the increased number of legal malpractice claims, and the recent downturn in the economy has only generated more malpractice claims.  In order to avoid these lawsuits, attorneys must be extremely cognizant of their ethical duties to their clients and also the major sources of client discontent that lead to the greatest amount of legal malpractice claims.

“Pay attention to the details because they separate mediocrity from excellence” – Mark Wilson

To learn how you can provide excellent service to your clients and avoid legal malpractice claims, please join attorney Mark Wilson for a look at the areas that lead to malpractice liability.  Establishing a good rapport with the client, paying attention to your ethical duties and providing excellent legal service to your client can help you to avoid major pitfalls and malpractice lawsuits.  The main issues discussed include recent malpractice trends, how best to proceed if you decide to accept the case, the importance of using fee agreements, early preparation, giving the client guidance, intelligent time keeping, learning your craft and client trust accounts.  To access the course, please click here: How to Avoid Legal Malpractice Claims.

Further topics addressed in this CLE course include:

  • The reputation of attorneys
  • Malpractice statistics
  • The downturn in the economy & the increased incidence of malpractice claims
  • Deciding whether to accept the assignment
  • Avoiding difficult clients
  • Appearance & reality
  • Documenting the attorney-client relationship
  • Avoiding conflicts of interest
  • Conflict waiver letters
  • The retainer agreement
  • Corresponding frequently with clients
  • Jury instructions
  • Why information is not enough
  • Block billing
  • “No charge”
  • Proper staffing
  • Timekeepers
  • Competence
  • Workload
  • Client trust accounts
  • Attention to detail

A seasoned trial attorney and skilled negotiator, Mark B. Wilson has won nearly every case he has tried or arbitrated and has lost only one jury trial in which the appellate court reversed the judgment in his client’s favor.  He tries cases in both federal and state courts in a variety of practice areas, including copyright infringement, construction defects, covenants not to compete, breach of contract, attorney malpractice, unlawful detainer and personal injury.  He and his partner Gerald Klein have recovered nearly $100 million in plaintiffs’ cases and have won defense verdicts in “bet the company” cases where millions of dollars were on the table.  For eight consecutive years he has been acknowledged as a Southern California Super Lawyer in the areas of business litigation, construction litigation and intellectual property litigation. He is also recognized as one of the top trial attorneys in Orange County by OC Register Metro magazine and Mr. Wilson has also achieved an “AV” rating from Martindale-Hubbell.  A frequent lecturer to bar organizations on modern trial techniques, he has also authored several articles on trial practice.

This CLE course on handling media attention is currently accredited in the following states:

  • Alaska (AK)
  • Arizona (AZ)
  • California (CA)
  • Connecticut (CT)
  • District of Columbia (DC)
  • Illinois (IL)
  • Maryland (MD)
  • Massachusetts (MA)
  • Michigan (MI)
  • New Jersey (NJ)
  • New York (NY)
  • Pennsylvania (PA)
  • South Dakota (SD)

Attorney Credits offers continuing legal education (CLE) for attorneys in Illinois and around the country.  For more information about CLE in Illinois  please click the following link: Illinois CLE.

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Top 10 California Legal Ethics Rulings of 2013

In today’s world, the law and your ethical duties change rapidly.  From conflicts of interest to protecting confidential information, new cases are constantly redefining your ethical duties as an attorney.  If you are a California attorney and you want to keep current on the main ethical cases from 2013, we have just added an excellent new CLE course.


In The Top 10 California Legal Ethics Rulings of 2013, Employment Law attorney Dan Eaton provides a comprehensive review of the top ethical decisions in California from 2013.  The ethical decisions discussed arise from a variety of practice areas and deal with various ethical issues, from threatening extortion to confidentiality & privilege.

This legal ethics CLE course discusses the following California decisions from 2013:

  • Lopez v. Banuelos (E.D.Cal. 2013) 2013 WL 4815699
  • Rickley v. Goodfriend (2013) 212 Cal.App.4th 1136
  • U.S. ex rel. Hartpence v. Kinetic Concepts, Inc.,
  • Mt. Holyoke Homes, L.P. v. Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell, LLP (2013) 219 Cal.App.4th 1299
  • Jay v. Mahaffey (2013) 218 Cal.App.4th 1522
  • Zimmerman v. Superior Court (2013) 220 Cal.App.4th 389
  • Mendoza v. Hamzeh (2013) 215 Cal.App.4th 799
  • Yanez v. Plummer (2013) 221 Cal.App.4th 180
  • Citizens for Ceres v. Superior Court (2013) 217 Cal.App.4th 889
  • Khani v. Ford (2013) Cal.App.4th 916

Daniel E. Eaton is a shareholder with Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek in San Diego in the Litigation Department and practices employment law.  Mr. Eaton received his B.S. from Georgetown University in 1984 and received his law degree, cum laude, from the Harvard Law School in 1989.  Prior to joining Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek, Mr. Eaton was with Proskauer Rose in Los Angeles from 1995 to 1998 and with Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich from 1989 to 1995. He was an Adjunct Professor of Law at Western State College of Law in 1993. He also has taught employment law at the University of California, San Diego, and both human resources law and business ethics at San Diego State University. From 1983 to 1986, Mr. Eaton served as an aide to Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senator Arlen Specter.

This legal ethics CLE course is currently accredited in California.  For more information about CLE in California please click the following link: California CLE.

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CLE Course: The Limits of Persuasion: Know Them and Use Them

Influencing other people can be a challenging task.  Many people hold strong beliefs and opinions on a number of positions – from gun regulation to their favorite sports team.  However, persuasion techniques can be employed to influence and convince others to change their beliefs or at least get them to move away from an entrenched position.

Robert Cialdini – Six Principles of Influence

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Commitment
  3. Social Proof
  4. Liking
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity

Much as been written about the art and science of persuasion and how attorneys can utilize influence and persuasion principles to become better advocates for their clients.  Persuasion is the ability to change a person’s behavior or beliefs about a certain position – essentially the ability to influence other’s beliefs and opinions.  Some have even called persuasion the psychology of why people say yes, and as zealous advocates for our clients persuasion can be an incredibly invaluable tool.


If you would like to learn more about persuasive techniques for attorneys, we have recently added an excellent new CLE course entitled The Limits of Persuasion: Know Them and Use Them.  In this entertaining and informative course, Chris Arledge delves into the power of persuasion and teaches attorneys how to deploy persuasive techniques in the courtroom and their everyday practice.  You will learn the four main principles of persuasion and how to use these principles to become a skilled persuader and a better legal practitioner.

The Four Principles of Persuasion for attorneys:

  1. Likability
  2. Trust
  3. Ability to Process Your Story
  4. Don’t Take Them Too Far From Home

Further issues discussed in this online CLE course include the public’s perception of attorneys, avoiding the trap of demonizing the opposition, remembering your primary goal, reciprocity, authenticity, communicating with individuals, the four benefits of story, being cognizant of roles, miscasting yourself & clients, persuading the jury, building your case around an underlying value, consistency, timing and understanding the jury.

Christopher W. Arledge is a co-founder and managing partner of One LLP.  His primary focus at One LLP is intellectual property litigation, particularly disputes over copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets.  In recent years, he has handled disputes involving the intellectual property of celebrities like Madonna, Don Henley, Kobe Bryant, Bette Davis, and Perez Hilton.  Lawyers are called, above all, to persuade, and Chris therefore studies and teaches the principles of persuasion.  He has taught the Art of Persuasion at Chapman Law School and has lectured on persuasion to some of the largest, most prestigious professional firms in the country, including Munger Tolles, O’Melveny, Jones Day, and Deloitte.  Chris has polished his advocacy skills outside the courtroom as well, participating in speaking engagements and debates sponsored by groups such as the American Bar Association, the Federal Bar Association, the University of Southern California, Chapman Law School, Whittier Law School, the Anti-Defamation League, California Lawyers for the Arts, and various Inns of Court and local bar associations, and by serving as a legal expert on a number of nationally syndicated radio programs.

This CLE course on persuasion techniques for attorneys is currently accredited in the following states:

  • Alaska (AK)
  • Arizona (AZ)
  • California (CA)
  • Connecticut (CT)
  • District of Columbia (DC)
  • Georgia (GA)
  • Illinois (IL)
  • Maryland (MD)
  • Massachusetts (MA)
  • Michigan (MI)
  • New Jersey (NJ)
  • New York (NY)
  • Oregon (OR)
  • Pennsylvania (PA)
  • South Dakota (SD)
  • Tennessee (TN)

Attorney Credits offers continuing legal education (CLE) in New York (NY) and around the country.  For more information about continuing legal education (CLE) in New York, please click the following link: New York CLE.

[1] Robert Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence

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The Elimination of Bias in the Legal Profession


The Elimination of Bias in the Legal Profession is a required course in California.  California is one of the few states with a mandatory bias and discrimination MCLE requirement.  In many other states, courses dealing with bias and discrimination in the legal system qualify for legal ethics credit.

Instead of lawyers in firms arguing about whether there is in fact anything “wrong” at their firm that needs correcting, they now discuss how improving their representation of women and minorities may enhance their business. That debate is usually a far less controversial one since, not surprisingly, it is easier for lawyers to reach a consensus about activities aimed at enhancing revenue and profits as opposed to achieving social justice.[1]

While the main rationale used to justify and advance diversity in law firms used to be moral, now it’s the bottom line that is driving the push.  Because of an expanded client base, it now makes economic sense to promote diversity within your firm.  Further, some Fortune 500 companies have demanded that the law firms they employ become more diverse – and they have fired them when they didn’t comply.[2]

While this may be a required course for some, many attorneys and people inside the legal profession view it as an important topic.  Attorney Credits has worked with a number of excellent practitioners to produce insightful CLE courses on this topic.  We are proud of our wide selection of bias and discrimination courses that we offer attorneys around the country.

  • Bias & Discrimination in the Legal Profession – What Can Be Done?
  • Eliminating Biases You Never Knew You Had
  • Elimination of Bias in the Legal Profession
  • Elimination of Bias in the Legal System
  • The Elimination of Bias & Promotion of Diversity in the Legal Profession

To view Attorney Credits’ selection of course dealing with bias, discrimination, diversity and inclusion please click here.

[1] Diversity Makes Cents

[2] Under Pressure: Corporate demands for minority hiring have law firms paying attention but will fundamental changes occur?


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California CLE Courses: Ethics, Bias & Substance Abuse

If you have an impending CLE deadline in California and you need to pick up specialty courses, we have the ethics, substance abuse and elimination of bias courses that you need.  At Attorney Credits CLE, we have been hard at work this year and we have made an extra push to film numerous legal ethics, substance abuse and elimination of bias courses so that our attorney clients in California have a wide selection of specialty CLE courses to choose from.

Legal Ethics:

Substance Abuse:

Elimination of Bias:

California (CA) attorneys need to complete a minimum of 4 credit hours of legal ethics, 1 credit hour of substance abuse and 1 credit hour of elimination of bias each three year compliance period. California attorneys who are in Group 1 have until January 31 to complete the required 25 credit hours and must report compliance by February 1.
If you need further information about MCLE in California, please click the links below:

Avoiding Ethical Violations & Legal Malpractice Claims

Legal Malpractice – two words attorneys never want to hear in their legal career … unless they are taking a CLE course with Attorney Credits.  There are many avenues that can lead to a malpractice claim, from conflicts of interest to improperly calendaring important dates.  However, many of these ethical traps can easily be avoided with a little knowledge and diligence.

We have just added an excellent resource for attorneys entitled Avoiding Ethical Violations & Legal Malpractice Claims: An Expert’s Perspective. Prominent Legal Malpractice attorney James E. King provides a comprehensive discussion of the common ethical pitfalls that  lead to ethical violations from the state bar and legal malpractice claims from your clients.

The main topics discussed include:

  • The Golden Rules
  • The attorney client relationship
  • Avoiding legal malpractice during the representation
  • Avoiding legal malpractice once the attorney client relationship has terminated

In addition to the main topics Mr. King also discusses a number of other pertinent ethical considerations. Further points addressed include communicating with clients, procrastination, keeping current on fees, substance abuse, representing multiple clients, potential conflicts, clarifying & limiting the scope of the attorney client relationship, the retention agreement, clients who habitually change attorneys, suing for legal fees, withdrawal, handling matters promptly, staying current on the law, the “rescue attorney,’ mistakes, keeping a clear record and client papers.

The course is currently offered in the following states and qualifies for 3 credits hours of Legal Ethics:

James E. King is the Founder of the King Law Corporation in San Diego.  Mr. King specializes in attorney fee disputes, legal ethics, and advises corporate counsel and law firms on litigation costs.  Mr. King has testified as an expert witness on numerous attorney-client fee disputes and has skillfully represented prominent clients such as Prince Fahd Aziz of Saudi Arabia and Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam.  Mr. King serves as a Special Master for the State Bar of California and is Vice-Chair of the Fee Arbitration Committee for the San Diego County Bar Association.  Jim also lectures and publishes works on attorney fee ethics and other related topics.

Attorney Credits Now Offers MECLE and VCLE in Alaska

By Jason Castillo, Director of Legal Education

Alaska is known as the “The Last Frontier State” because of its distance from the lower 48 states, rugged landscape and inhospitable climate. Luckily, now that we offer CLE in Alaska, attorneys can complete their required units from the comfort of their home or office – without stepping foot into the inhospitable climate.

Alaska attorneys have one of the lighter CLE requirements in the country and is the only state with MECLE and VCLE credit hours.  According to the Alaska Bar, members are required to earn 3 mandatory ethics credits (MECLE) and “encouraged to earn 9 additional credits.”[1]  These additional 9 credits are known as VCLE units – or voluntary CLE units.[2]

 State MCLE Requirement

  • Total MCLE Credits Required: 3 MECLE, 9 VCLE

Compliance Requirements

  • Reporting Cycle: 1 year
  • Compliance Deadline: December 31
  • Reporting Deadline: February 1


  • Carryover Allowed: Yes
  • Number of Carryover Credits Allowed: 12

State Regulatory Entity

Alaska attorneys may complete all their CLE requirements with some of our more popular courses and bundle packages.  Click here to view accredited courses on the Alaska course list.  Click here to view one-click state bundles that are offered in Alaska.

Visit the links below for more information:

[1] Alaska Bar Rule 65 governs Bar member requirements and incentives, and approval of CLE courses, content, and activities. All Alaska state bar members are required to take at least three Mandatory Ethics Continuing Legal Education (MECLE) credits each year. Each member is also required to complete at least nine Voluntary Continuing Legal Education (VCLE) credits each year.

[2] According to Alaska Rule 65 qualifying educational topics may include professional responsibility, workplace ethics, law office management, attention to cases and clients, time management, malpractice prevention, collegiality, general attorney wellness, and professionalism.

Beware of Online Juror Contact

Web 2.0 has made it much easier to communicate with friends, relatives and fellow attorneys.  But the Internet and Web 2.0 have also created numerous new ethical traps.

For example, many attorneys have recently turned to Google and Facebook to research both potential and sitting jurors. However, attorneys must be very careful to avoid ex parte contact with jurors online.  And ex parte contact can be widely construed according to a recent ethics opinion from the New York City Bar Association.

“If an attorney cannot ascertain the functionality of a website, the attorney must proceed with great caution in conducting research on that particular site, and should keep in mind the possibility that even an accidental, automated notice to the juror could be considered a violation.”

Formal Opinion 2012-2 states that even if an attorney unknowingly or inadvertently “causes a communication with a juror,” such conduct could possibly afoul of the state’s professional conduct rules. And as stated in numerous ethics opinions, attorneys must not use deception to obtain information about potential and sitting jurors. Some attorneys have used other associates and paralegals to send ‘friend’ requests on Facebook to gain access to a juror’s Facebook page.  This is considered deceptive and unethical conduct.

Attorneys ethical duties have become more clouded in the era of Facebook, Google and Twitter.  The New York ethics opinion should serve as guidance in the abscene of rules that directly address the conduct.  Ethics opinions carry a lot of weight with courts and regulators around the country and even if you don’t practice in New York these are valuable resources.

For more information on the subject, click the following links:

We also have an excellent CLE course on the subject featuring Patrick Eckstrom and John Stahmer.  The course in entitled Ethics in a Web 2.0 world and it is accredited for 1 credit hour of legal ethics.

Illinois MCLE Requirement Now 30 Units

By Jason Castillo, Director of Legal Education

If you are an Illinois attorney – and your last name begins with A-M – you must now complete 30 units to fulfill your MCLE requirement OR be entitled to claim a valid exemption no later than June 30.[1]  This 30 hour requirement includes 6 units of Professional Responsibility.[2]  Also, different rules and requirements apply to newly admitted attorneys.[3]

There is a grace period for attorneys that have not yet completed the required MCLE credit hours by June 30.  This grace period extension ends on September 30, 2012.  However, it will cost you if you fall into the grace period.  If your MCLE is not completed by June 30, one of two late fees will apply:

  • $100 if the attorney reports non-compliance by July 31, 2012
  • $150 if the attorney fails to report compliance, non-compliance or a valid exemption by July 31, 2012.

Attorneys may report online or respond to certification forms mailed by the Illinois MCLE Board.  Online reporting is done through the MCLE Board Online Reporting System.  To access the online attorney reporting website click the following link:

Attorneys may access the Illinois MCLE Board online reporting system to complete a number of tasks including reporting MCLE compliance and making payments.[4]  Lastly, the Supreme Court of Illinois amended the MCLE Rules and the MCLE Board’s fee schedule effective September 27, 2011.  For a list of changes click here.

We have a number of one-click state bundles to fulfill the Illinois 30 credit hour MCLE requirement. Click here to view:

Click these links for further information:

What is a two-year Illinois reporting period?

Newly Admitted Attorneys, Did You Know …

MCLE Requirements in Illinois

How do I report MCLE compliance?

Attorney reporting periods and required CLE hours

[1] Illinois attorneys have a two-year reporting period according to Rule 794. Different rules apply with respect to newly admitted attorneys. Rule 793. An attorney’s two-year reporting period depends on the first letter of the attorney’s last name as it appeared on the master roll of attorneys on July 1, 2006 if the attorney was admitted to the Illinois bar by June 30, 2006 or, if admitted on July 1, 2006 or later, the attorney’s last name upon admission.

[2] This includes professionalism, diversity issues, mental illness and addiction issues, civility or legal ethics as per Rule 794(d)(1).

[3] Newly-admitted attorneys must comply with the requirements of Rule 793 and must complete a total of 15 credit hours

[4] To use the online reporting system, you must log in using your attorney registration number that was issued by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC).  The ARDC number appears on your ARDC card and annual registration form.

No Such Thing as a Non-Refundable Retainer?

By Jason Castillo, Director of Legal Education

The Iowa Supreme Court recently suspended a retired Iowa attorney for 30 days after ruling that a fee agreement with a criminal defendant was unethical.  According to the opinion, “the amount of the fee charged and collected by Vilmont for performing the limited and insignificant services in representing his client was, without question, unreasonable.”  The court then stated that a reasonable fee would have been about $600 under the circumstances of the case.  To read the opinion, click here.

The charges arose from attorney Bill Vilmont’s representation of a client on a state charge of enticement of a minor.  According to the Iowa Supreme Court opinion, the agreement provided for charges of $225 an hour, with a minimum fee of $2,500 to be paid with a retainer.  The $2,500 retainer was placed in a trust.

When the state charges were dropped in leiu of federal charges, the client dropped Vilmont and retained a different attorney to represent him in federal court, according to court documents.  Five days after the state charge was dismissed, Vilmont withdrew the $2,500 from the trust account without notifying his former client, according to the opinion.  Vilmont then ignored several requests to return the retainer.

Vilmont provided an accounting to the Iowa Supreme Court Disciplinary Board showing that he worked 3.7 hours on the client’s case – including one hour to provide the accounting.  The court, however, ruled that the minimum fee contract was “clearly unethical” and that Vilmont had failed to provide a timely accounting.

After scanning some of the comments on the ABA website, it’s clear that a number of attorneys did not agree with the Iowa Supreme Court ruling.  However, in the words of attorney fee expert James King, there is no such thing as a non-refundable retainer.  All unearned fees must be returned to the client.[1]  Under California Rule 3-700(D)(2), unless the attorney and client have contracted for a “true retainer,” the attorney must refund any portion of an advance fee that the attorney has not yet earned.[2]

And an examination of authority reveals that only “true retainers” are nonrefundable – and these are extremely rare.  When a client discharges an attorney, the Rules of Professional Conduct require the attorney to “[p]romptly refund any part of a fee paid in advance that has not been earned.”[3]  In California and other states there are also Ethics Opinions that address the subject.

What are your thoughts?

For more information, we have a few resources available for you:

[1] Baranowski v. State Bar (1979) 24 Cal.3d 153.

[2] The California Rules also state that a refund is unnecessary if the money is “a true retainer fee … paid solely for the purpose of ensuring the availability of the member for the matter” (see Rule 3-700(D)(2).  However, in the words of the California Supreme Court, true retainers are very rare these days.

[3] See California Ethics Opinion 01-02 which speculates that there are probably only a handful of situations in which a client would want to pay a true retainer.