PREP Visits Estate Planning Council to Explore Issues Ranging from Diminished Capacity to the Ethical Embrace of Technology


Miami Law’s Professional Responsibility & Ethics Program recently presented a CLE that explored legal ethics dilemmas arising in trust and estate law to the Estate Planning Council of Greater Miami. PREP fellow Marissa Shulman, and interns Geoffrey Marcus and Bobby Renzi, working under the guidance of PREP director Jan L. Jacobowitz, discussed representing clients with diminished capacity, resolving conflicts of interest, and the appropriate handling of cryptocurrencies. PREP fellow Haley Moss, and interns Paige Coles and Jonathan Portuondo, presented on technology and trust accounting.

Charles Sachs, EPC past president, Marissa Shulman, Bobby Renzi, & Geoffrey Marcus

PREP students introduced hypothetical situations to facilitate discussion of the various issues. During the first hypothetical, Marcus provided ethical guidelines for interacting with clients who may have diminished capacity. “With mental health conditions becoming more prevalent, lawyers increasingly have to determine whether a client has decision-making capacity,” said Marcus. Marcus also shared insights about legal ethics and the designation of digital assets in estate planning documents.

Renzi’s hypothetical addressed conflicts of interest that may arise between joint clients and when a client offers to pay legal fees by providing a lawyer an interest in a client’s business. Shulman discussed the issues surrounding the acceptance of cryptocurrency (like Bitcoin) as payment for legal fees and the evolution of artificially intelligent legal tools.

“Preparing for this presentation by researching how cryptocurrencies work and how artificial intelligence has been adopted by lawyers was challenging and fascinating. Introducing the ethical challenges posed by this new technology was a rewarding experience,” said Shulman.

Moss and Portuondo each discussed cybersecurity issues.  "I really enjoyed presenting to the attorneys and professionals that are members of the Estate Planning Council of Greater Miami," said Moss. "It is so important to understand how we interact with technology in all aspects in our lives, including when we travel and work while on the road.”
“Even though I’m not licensed to practice law yet, PREP and the CLE trainings give me the sense that I am able to make a positive impact in the legal community as a law student. I am looking forward to the rest of the semester,” said Portuondo.

All of the PREP students enjoyed and benefited from the audience participation. The engaged attendees contributed with an interesting, thoughtful conversation based on situations that they have confronted.  “I really enjoyed discussing estate planning issues with the audience. The conversations were dynamic because they were shaped by the practical experience of the attorneys and accountants in the room,” said Renzi.

"It was great discussing these issues with estate planning attorneys and learning about how they assess and handle a client who may have diminished mental capacity,” said Moss.

Coles, who presented on trust account issues concluded also that “the group was highly, engaged making the presentation thought provoking and an engaging, an overall great experience."

PREP is an award-winning program that develops continuing legal education ethics training for the legal community. The program combines the attributes of an ethics institute and an ethics clinic, has dedicated hundreds of student hours to public service, and has educated thousands of members of the Bench & Bar. During training, students are often able to make a positive impact on attendees by prompting them to consider and reconsider their approaches to some of the toughest ethical dilemmas that may arise in the practice of law.
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 training, 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.