Miami Law PREP Students Focus on Ethical Dilemmas


Miami Law's award-winning Professional Responsibility and Ethics Program continues to present cutting-edge ethics training for the legal community this semester.

PREP students Amanda LeCheminant, Ross Mitello, and Nicole Pearl recently presented a CLE training for Catholic Charities Legal Services. Under the supervision of Jan Jacobowitz, PREP's director, the students created a presentation that focused on the ethical considerations regarding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which are designed to allow people who did not intentionally violate immigration laws continue to live and work in the United States, and the impact of social media on status applications. Specific ethics rules were discussed including the supervision of non-attorney assistants, the unauthorized practice of law, the formation and proper termination of an attorney-client relation, effectively limiting the scope of representation, and attorney-client confidentiality.

"Presenting to the attorneys at Catholic Charities highlighted the practical difficulties involved in ensuring compliance with the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct," Mitello said. He added that the training "provided an opportunity to participate in discussing different strategies to better ensure compliance with the rules while still effectively providing free legal services and information to the public."

LeCheminant, a PREP fellow and second-time presenter at Catholic Charities, found the session to be an exciting experience: "I particularly enjoyed being back at Catholic Charities for this year's training. It is always a delight to witness the passion of the attorneys and staff members as they participate in our discussions. I hope that they were able to learn as much from our presentation as I was able to learn from them."

After the presentation, Randy McGorty, Executive Director of Catholic Charities Legal Services for the Archdiocese of Miami, sent Jacobowitz an e-mail to thank her and the PREP team for a "lively and informative training."

In another recent presentation, PREP students Shayla Waldon, Patrick Poole and Adam Fischer discussed "communication run amok" at the Bankruptcy Bar Association of the Southern District of Florida. The students spoke with local bankruptcy practitioners and two Southern District bankruptcy judges, Raymond B. Ray and John K. Olson, the importance of communicating effectively with clients.

Waldon's topics included the competence of practitioners transitioning to bankruptcy practice and counsel's obligations to third parties. "Knowing each judge's preferences is so important in a bankruptcy practice," she said. "Judge Ray and Judge Olson shared their own distinct preferences for communicating with the court."

Fischer highlighted the importance of counsel's duty to avoid ex parte communications with the judge and the judge's law clerk, which prompted further insight from Judge Olson and Judge Ray about their respective policies in their courts. "It was interesting to hear the different perspectives of the Judges," Fischer said. "The judges provided great insight about how they personally view common ethical dilemmas."

Poole's portion of the presentation raised issues that ranged from the imminent changes in the advertising rules to the dual representation of a corporate debtor and its principal during a Chapter 11 case. "The training allowed the attorneys to learn not only the relevant rules and case law, but also to hear the Judges' opinions on each hypothetical issue," he said. "Overall, I think it was a great learning experience for everyone involved."

Another presentation was held at the South Miami Kendall Bar Association. Students James Lechter and Sean Holas explored the ethical implications of the use of office technology in a series of hypothetical scenarios. The presentation analyzed some of the ethical dilemmas lawyers may encounter when using the Internet, including web-based advertising, spoliation of evidence, and social media network based research of witness and jurors. The use of Facebook and LinkedIn specifically addressed potential privacy issues and how nominal "friend" requests can be construed as ex parte communication with represented parties.

"The attorneys were very eager to learn how prospective changes to the advertising rules would change their ethical obligations in running the business of law," Lechter said.

PREP, a 2012 recipient of the American Bar Association's Smythe E. Gambrell Award, was established in 1996 as an in-house program within the Center for Ethics and Public Service at Miami Law. PREP's programming originated as an outgrowth of a collaborative effort with the nonprofit legal community to provide training on ethics issues arising in the context of serving the underprivileged. Today, PREP has expanded to present ethics training to lawyers working throughout the legal profession in venues ranging from small gatherings at nonprofit offices to large bar association meetings and national webinars.