By Lazar Emanuel [Originally published in NYPRR April 1998]
Every New York lawyer is now required by the Administrative Board of the Courts “to ensure that there is posted, in a manner visible to clients of the attorney, a statement of rights…” The form and text of the statement was prescribed by the Board. The Board’s notice anticipated some of the questions which would be raised by the Bar.
In an effort to resolve other questions regarding the Statement of Client’s Rights, NYPRR interviewed Antonio Galvao, Assistant Deputy Counsel, Chief Administrative Judge.
Here are our questions and his answers:
• Firm A maintains a suite of offices, all on one floor. It has a reception area, several conference rooms, and a number of private offices. Where should the Statement be posted?
We trust in the Bar to comply with the requirement and to post the Statement appropriately based on the particular contours of their facilities. Our primary purpose is education and improving attorney-client relationships, and, especially, to inform clients better and avoid misunderstandings. In the case of Firm A, if most people coming into the office will see the Statement in the reception area, that should be fine. If a great deal of contact and interaction with clients takes place in the conference rooms, then perhaps it should be posted in those rooms as well. But we are not requiring that it be posted in lawyers’ individual offices.
• Firm B is a large firm on several floors. It has one reception area and conference rooms on some of the floors. Some floors are limited to private offices and stenography areas. Where should the Statement be displayed?
The Statement should be posted at least once on each floor in which clients appear. The reception area and conference rooms would be appropriate. If there’s a floor with only attorneys and secretaries where no clients ever go, there’s no reason to post the Statement there.
• Lawyers A, B and C are individual practitioners who share a private suite but are not partners. They have an outer room with three desks occupied & their respective secretaries. Clients come in through this room and wait until they are shown into the private office of one of the attorneys. Where should the Statement be posted?
If the outer room really is a place where clients sit down before they enter a lawyer’s office, it would be sufficient to post it there. We wouldn’t want to get into a situation where attorneys have to post the Statement alongside their diplomas. We wouldn’t want them posting this in a single office unless that’s the only place where clients can go when they come in.
• Is there any requirement about the size of the display?
No, we did distribute about 50,000 Statements for posting that were 8.5 x 11. There’s no requirement for size. It should be big enough so people can read it and it won’t blend in and not be visible.
• The Statement requires courtesy towards clients by the lawyer and personnel in his office. Does the lawyer have an obligation to train his staff and personnel in any specific way?
We’re not saying that there should be a training requirement, but certainly, if a lawyer is supervising the office, he or she should be responsible to an extent for how their employees behave and interact with the public. But we’re not saying that they have to give sensitivity courses.
• What are the sanctions for failing to post the Statement altogether — or for posting it in an inadequate place?
The proper disciplinary authorities will have to resolve these issues if they come up. We hope they don’t. Obviously, there is a posting requirement, and that’s brand new. I don’t how the grievance committees will resolve a failure to post. Of the ten items on the Statement, there are items that are just civility, and some repeat tenets of the Code of Professional Responsibility. So I guess you can go on what the grievance committees have been doing to date.
• What should in-house counsel or government legal staffs do about the Statement?
The posting requirement does not apply to them. They don’t have to post a Statement if their client is also their institutional employer, as with in-house corporate counsel, municipal corporation counsel or district attorney’s offices. And I guess there are other lawyers who don’t deal with the public at all.
• If a lawyer needs further clarification on the process of posting, may he call your office or write to you?
Yes, and they are doing that.
• What if a client wants a copy to take away?
We understand that some firms are making copies available in the reception area and in conference rooms. It’s certainly a good idea to offer a copy to the client. As I’ve said, our interest is to educate and inform the public and the Bar about their reciprocal rights and obligations.
• Is there anything else you would like lawyers to know?
Yes. The NYSBA felt that there should be a client’s counterpart to the Statement to outline what the reasonable expectations are at the commencement of representation and to look at it from both perspectives. We felt that was fine, and the Administrative Board considered it and signed off on it. We’ve sent our 40,000 or 50,000 copies, and, so far as I know, most attorneys will be posting them. Unlike the Statement of Client Rights, they’re not required to post it. What an attorney demands from the client is up to the individual attorney. I’m sure that 80–90% of lawyers will post, however. They really lobbied for it. They wanted it.
Lazar Emanuel is the Publisher of NYPRR.
DISCLAIMER: This article provides general coverage of its subject area and is presented to the reader for informational purposes only with the understanding that the laws governing legal ethics and professional responsibility are always changing. The information in this article is not a substitute for legal advice and may not be suitable in a particular situation. Consult your attorney for legal advice. New York Legal Ethics Reporter provides this article with the understanding that neither New York Legal Ethics Reporter LLC, nor Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, nor Hofstra University, nor their representatives, nor any of the authors are engaged herein in rendering legal advice. New York Legal Ethics Reporter LLC, Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, Hofstra University, their representatives, and the authors shall not be liable for any damages resulting from any error, inaccuracy, or omission.