Students Present on Legal Ethics at Catholic Legal Services and Legal Services of Greater Miami

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Alessandria San Roman, Randolph McGrorty, Esq., CEO, Catholic Legal Services; Myriam Mezadieu, Catholic Charities COO; Melissa Scott, and Noelia Vaccaro

Every semester the Professional Responsibility & Ethics Program visits with non-profit legal services organizations in Miami to present customized CLE ethics trainings that explore ethical dilemmas that confront public interest lawyers.

In October, PREP’s director, Jan L. Jacobowitz, and three second-year law students—Alessandria San Roman, Melissa Scott, and Noelia Vaccaro--visited Catholic Charities Legal Services to discuss ethical issues in immigration law such as attorney-client relationships, non-lawyer assistance, termination of representation, and conflicts of interest.

Providing a three-act hypothetical for the Catholic Charities lawyers to consider, the law students facilitated a discussion designed to apply the legal ethics rules to the realities of an immigration practice. The first act, presented by San Roman, established the ethical implications that may arise when lawyers represent minor clients. “Often times, issues concerning minors and their capacity to make decisions become complicated,” said San Roman. “It is important to follow ethical guidelines while ensuring that a minor feels as comfortable as possible despite his challenging circumstances.”

Scott presented Act II, which incorporated matters of non-lawyer assistants (such as interpreters) and duties of communication about scope and termination of representation. Vaccaro concluded with the third and final act, posing questions of confidentiality involving clients’ criminal or fraudulent acts and abuse.

Overall, it was a unique opportunity for students to put their knowledge into practice. “It was exciting to see the attorneys identify relevant topics and apply the hypotheticals we created to personal, real-life cases,” said Scott. “I was amazed to discover that what we learn in the classroom affects tangible legal issues.”

“Presenting in front of lawyers who have been in the field for several years was truly amazing,” said Vaccaro. “Seeing how ethical issues that we learn in classes are actual issues attorneys have to deal with on daily basis really shows the importance of understanding the ethical duties we have to take on as future attorneys.”

Myriam Mezadieu, Catholic Charities COO who coordinated the trianing with PREP expressed thanks in an email in which she said, “I would like to personally thank you for your presentation to the Catholic Legal Services’ staff yesterday.  It was both enjoyable and informative. Judging from the comments of those who attended, the topics were great – the training was very successful.  Most of the credit goes to you and the students who gave such interesting presentations.  Your participation made a real difference in our effort to educate, motivate, and empower our staff, particularly our lawyers and accredited reps.”

Ellen Kruk, Nicole Chipi, Sabrina Rishmague

In November, PREP Fellow Ellen Kruk, along with interns Nicole Chipi and Sabrina Rishmague, presented a CLE ethics training at the Legal Services of Greater Miami. The students worked closely with the Legal Services attorneys to create realistic hypotheticals that could potentially affect the organization’s ethical decision-making processes.

The presentation addressed the ethical implications of failing to discuss retainer agreement provisions, the waiver of attorneys’ fees and settlement offers, as well as limited scope of representation, and client confidentiality.

Chipi and Rishmague, 2Ls, enjoyed the conversational nature of the training program and benefitted from the dialogue with the attorneys. “While we thoroughly researched our issues and came up with ‘scholarly’ conclusions, the attorneys brought a practical perspective to the table, shedding light on some of the challenges presented by the demands of real-world practice when attempting to comply with the ethical rules,” Chipi said.

Rishmague said that after researching the issues in depth, “it was wonderful to get insight into how they actually come into play in the daily practice of law. Hearing the attorneys candidly recount some of the ways they’ve dealt with these ethical quandaries over the years gave new dimension to my understanding of the rules.”

Kruk, a 3L, added that she “appreciated having the unique opportunity to understand and explain the limits of client confidentiality with regard to disclosure of a client’s HIV status to their significant others or family. It is a topic seldom spoken about, but essential for attorneys who may face difficult decisions in their representation of HIV-positive clients to recognize their ethical obligations.”

Jeffrey Hearne, the director of litigation for LSGMI, thanked PREP in an email that said, "Professor Jacobowitz and her students were a great help to our attorneys.  Their hypotheticals were based on common ethical issues that come up in our cases, such as the potential conflicts that can arise when we settle a case with attorney's fees.  We look forward to having them back next year!"

In 2012, PREP was recognized by the ABA with its E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award, the leading national award recognizing programs and projects contributing to the understanding and advancement of professionalism among lawyers and judges. In addition to presenting ethics trainings, throughout the semester PREP students publish blog posts regarding the nation’s newest ethics opinions. The blog, Legal Ethics in Motion, can be found here.
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