Monday, February 23, 2009

Case of the Week 2/23/09

Engaging in any kind of intimidating, abusive, or turbulent behavior towards others is a red flag for the bar examiners.

In one case, an applicant was denied admission to the Nebraska Bar after he was charged with brandishing a deadly weapon, burglary, assault, making threats, and stalking as a college student; and with aggravated harassment stemming from an altercation with a fellow student as a law student. In re Antonini, 272 Neb. 985 (2007). The court found the applicant to be untruthful on his bar application about the charges against him. “We have held that ‘abusive, disruptive, hostile, intemperate, intimidating, irresponsible, threatening, or turbulent behavior is a proper basis for the denial of admission to the bar.’” Id., at 993. “[The applicant] has been involved in three serious incidents involving abusive, disruptive, hostile, intemperate, intimidating, irresponsible, threatening, and turbulent behavior. In each of these incidents, [the applicant] showed complete disregard for others as well as a lack of self-control.” Id., at 994.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Case of the Week, 2/16/09

Both bar examiners and law school administrators are concerned with false statements and dishonesty--whether those statements are made on law school applications, bar applications, or elsewhere.

Some law schools are taking measures to punish students for dishonesty or false statements. One student lied on his resume about his class rank and GPA, and failed to disclose on his resume that he was a transfer student; a potential employer discovered the misrepresentations and called the student’s law school dean. See Gagne v. The Trustees of Indiana University, 692 N.E.2d 489 (Ind. App. 1998). In addition, the student failed to disclose a criminal conviction and pending charges for reckless driving on his law school applications. He was expelled from his law school and then sued the school, claiming breach of contract and violation of his due process rights; he lost.

Discussion Question 2/16/09

Note: These periodic discussion questions are designed to inspire dialogue about law student ethics and professionalism, whether through in-class discussions, informal discussions, or in the form of comments online.

*** You are in charge of evaluating bar applicants' character and fitness for the practice of law in jurisdiction. To what extent does each of the following discoveries influence your decision? To what extent does each factor weigh against the applicant?

* You discover that one applicant has failed to disclose a conviction for shoplifting, which occurred when the applicant was a juvenile;
* You discover that one applicant lied about his law school GPA on a job application;
* You discover that one applicant was accused by her legal writing professor of plagiarizing a memorandum, though the applicant was never formally disciplined by her law school;
* You discover that one applicant has posted compromising pictures of herself on a social networking site, including pictures depicting the applicant taking drugs.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Guest Blogger of the Month Post: A Law Student Perspective on Ethics and Professionalism in Law School

My name is Chad Johnson, and it is my pleasure to be a guest blogger on the Law Student Ethics blog. I am a third-year law student at Indiana University Maurer School of Law-Bloomington and the 2008-2009 ABA Law Student Division liaison to the Center for Professional Responsibility.

Like many of you, when I began law school, I had little sense of what area of law my career would ultimately focus upon; I simply knew that in three years, I would become an attorney. As I have progressed through law school, I have studied various fields of law and developed interests in several different practice areas. Yet, among all the different areas of law, I have discovered an important constant: ethics and professional responsibility. It is essential that as law students we develop strong ethical principles and a sense of professional responsibility, because ethical questions will inevitably arise in your future legal career, and perhaps even during your time as a law student.

One such area that law students should learn about during (and ideally before) law school involves issues of character and fitness. Each of us will be required to meet certain standards before we are declared fit to practice law; therefore, maintaining professional conduct and avoiding unethical situations is of vital importance, even during law school before many of us have any idea where our career is headed. For example, some students succumb to the pressure and intense competition of law school and resort to cheating on exams or plagiarizing papers. Certainly these cases are the extreme, but it should be noted that plagiarism can also be committed unintentionally, resulting from poor research and writing habits or procrastination. Staying on top of assignments and managing your time effectively can reduce mistakes and errors that could become disastrous.

On a more positive note, law school affords students many opportunities to begin to develop a professional character that will enhance your career. I encourage you to get involved in school clubs, volunteer organizations, and bar associations - these provide you with opportunities to not only gain experience, but in many cases you will be able to network with important, influential attorneys who can provide advice on how to maximize your potential. Additionally, don't forget that your professional network begins with your law school peers -- getting involved in clubs and extracurricular activities will allow you to get to know other students and develop relationships that will form the foundation of your professional network.

Now I don't claim to be an expert in these substantive areas -- I continue to learn more and more as I study the Model Rules in my Legal Professions class, but I even more as I strive to conduct my life in a manner consistent with my desire to enter an honorable legal profession entrusted with the care of others and self regulation. I don't mean to sound negative as I talk about these important issues either. Quite the opposite, really: learning and practicing proper conduct, and exercising ethical behavior can lead to great happiness and success, not only in your life as a law student, but throughout your future legal career.

Please contact me if you have questions, concerns, or just want to get a fellow law student's view on the importance of ethics and professional responsibility.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Case of the Week 2/9/09

When it comes to bar applications, a student’s improper business dealings or conduct during employment may raise eyebrows.

In one case, a student was involved in a fraudulent investment scheme that resulted in civil litigation by defrauded investors against the student and his partner, as well as criminal charges against the partner, but not against the student. In re Matthews, 94 N.J. 59 (1983). After the student disclosed the pending civil case on his bar application, the court concluded that despite the lack of criminal charges and purported non-involvement, the student did not have the requisite moral character to be admitted to the bar. The court held, “It cannot be disputed that Matthews should have known of the fraudulent nature of the scheme. Even Matthews, in retrospect, recognizes that too many elements of the scheme simply reeked with illegitimacy. Any reasonable person’s suspicion would have been raised by a series of purported investment opportunities, each of which returned an exceptionally high rate of profit, yet involved no risk.” Id., at 79. The court also found Matthews’ failure to file his tax returns on time troublesome.

Job Offers and Professionalism

Getting an offer of employment may be the most exciting part of your job search process, but offers -- receiving them, accepting them, discussing them, mulling them over, and declining them -- carry with them certain professional and ethical considerations.

On its website, the Association for Legal Career Professionals lists the following considerations for offers of employment:

"Offers and Decision-Making

* An offer of employment requires you to make a very important decision. If there are particular issues that are important to you, ask about them before you accept or decline an offer.

* Become familiar with NALP's Principles and Standards for Law Placement and Recruitment Activities, which include "General Standards for the Timing of Offers and Decisions." Copies of these ethical guidelines are available in law school career services offices and from NALP.

* Keep in touch with the Recruiting Coordinator or an attorney at the organization. Let them know what you are doing, even if you are interviewing with other employers. Be honest.

* The employer's letter confirming your offer should indicate a deadline for your response. You should make every effort to meet your offer deadline. Call the employer if you need an extension. Do not wait until the day before or the day of the deadline to ask for an extension.

Accepting and Declining Offers

* All job offers, salaries, terms of employment, etc., should be made in writing by the employer, and your acceptance should always be confirmed in writing.

* If you know your decision before the deadline date, you should communicate that to the employer. If you know you are not going to accept a particular offer, you should tell the employer immediately.

* Once you have accepted an offer, do not renege. Accepting a job offer and then calling back at a later date to say you've changed your mind can be a dangerous game. There may be circumstances which force you into this kind of unfortunate action, but professional circles are small and memories are long. Treat a potential employer as fairly as you expect to be treated yourself."

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Case of the Week: 2/2/09

Lying on a bar application or failing to disclose information that the bar examiners may find relevant during a character and fitness examination is almost a surefire way to guarantee that an applicant either won’t be admitted to practice or will be closely scrutinized – with his or her application delayed – before admission.

In one case, an applicant disclosed to the Nebraska bar that he was disciplined by his law school for making personal use of student funds as treasurer of a student bar association, but failed to disclose that he was previously charged with writing a bad check and taking merchandise without payment; the applicant later explained that the two charges “slipped his mind.” In re Majorek, 244 Neb. 595 (1993). The court denied his application and said, “The fact that the applicant could forget encountering the criminal justice system for writing an insufficient funds check even as long as 10 years earlier, when he was 22 years old, is, in and of itself, bothersome. Does the lack of memory indicate that he did not consider the matter serious? Does it indicate that he represses unpleasant experiences and thus does not learn from them? Does the latter hypothesis explain why he has written other insufficient funds checks? Whatever the explanation, the applicant’s self-confessed forgetfulness about so serious a matter does not inspire confidence in his fitness to practice law.” Id., at 604. The court also noted, “The applicant was 31 years old when he misappropriated his fellow students’ funds and had spent considerable time studying law—the misappropriation was hardly the act of a na├»ve and callow youth. While the applicant found himself in a difficult financial situation, the circumstance provides no excuse for his conduct.” Id., at 603.