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Disciplinary Board Offers To Help Solo Practitioners Better Understand Rules Of Professional Conduct

(Lemoyne, Pa.) - Consisting of more than 60 percent of the attorneys in the state, solo and small-firm practitioners make up the largest lawyer constituency in Pennsylvania. These attorneys face unique challenges in both the operation of their practice and adherence to the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct.

The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania provides state attorneys with a variety of tools to help them understand the attorney disciplinary process and the rules that govern lawyers in Pennsylvania. These tools include an easy-to-navigate Web site (www.padb.us) and monthly e-newsletters.

According to the Disciplinary Board, some of the more common violations committed by solo practices are neglecting cases, financial errors, failure to communicate with clients, and mistakes in a written fee agreement.

Francis X. O'Connor has run a solo practice in Great Bend, Pa. for 31 years. He is currently in his second term on the Disciplinary Board. He understands the many challenges facing solo practice owners and says that lack of knowledge about proper procedures is one of the primary reasons why solo practice attorneys face disciplinary charges.

"Of the small percentage of lawyers who break the rules, the majority are often honest people who have made poor decisions," O'Connor said. "There are good lawyers who make mistakes and need to be educated. Then there are bad lawyers who need to be disciplined and it's the Disciplinary Board's job to differentiate between the two."

According to O'Connor, the added responsibilities that come with running a solo practice make it difficult for attorneys to stay informed of the issues and rules concerning their profession.

"Solo practices don't have the backup and support systems of the larger firms. They need to handle everything themselves," O'Connor said. "The staff of a solo practice usually consists of an administrative assistant and maybe one other assistant, but oftentimes that's not even the case. So more often than not the attorney must handle all aspects of managing a firm, as well as successfully handling all client cases."

According to O'Connor, one of the benefits of working for a large firm is the training that is available. The time pressures of running a solo practice limit the time that some attorneys can spend on training and continuing education, so solo practice attorneys need to take advantage of any training tools and educational opportunities they can access.

"The Disciplinary Board, the Pennsylvania Bar Association and the Pennsylvania Bar Institute are all excellent resources for solo practice attorneys. The Bar provides a variety of tools and there are CLE courses that can also help," he said. "The Disciplinary Board Web site is a valuable source and I would recommend that every lawyer, regardless of the size of their firm, visit it at least once a month. Especially the rules section, which is an important educational tool."

The attorney section of the Web site is designed to answer attorneys' frequently asked questions (FAQ's) and provide information regarding registration, reinstatement, rule changes and updates, news related items, registered attorneys or links to Pennsylvania rules. Attorneys may also register for the board's monthly attorney e-newsletter through the Web site, which is another valuable tool for solo practice attorneys.

"The purpose of our Web site is to make information about the Disciplinary Board and its policies more easily accessible to Pennsylvania attorneys," Robert Saidis, chair of the Disciplinary Board Communication Committee said. "We have many resources available for solo practitioners, which is the largest group of attorneys in the state."

The Disciplinary Board is an independent agency that consists of 16 members, 14 attorneys and two non-lawyers from across the state. It assists the Supreme Court in carrying out its exclusive jurisdiction over the licensing and discipline of attorneys in Pennsylvania. The members meet regularly to decide cases, policies and board administrative matters.

The Disciplinary Board's goals are to protect the general public, maintain a high standard of integrity in the legal profession, and safeguard the reputation of the courts of Pennsylvania. The Disciplinary Board was created by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to review conduct and assure compliance by all attorneys to the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct. For more information about the Disciplinary Board please visit www.padb.us. For more information regarding this press release contact Nathan Pigott at 717.975.2148 or npigott@hersheyphilbin.com.