Monica K. Gilroy, Esq.
Gilroy Bailey Trumble, LLC
“To me, a lawyer is basically the person that knows the rules of the country. We're all throwing the dice, playing the game, moving our pieces around the board, but if there is a problem the lawyer is the only person who has read the inside of the top of the box.” -- Jerry Seinfeld [youtube.com]
As we once again come to the beginning of a new year, as real estate lawyers we should take this time to reflect upon one of the core values of our legal training-reading and knowing, as Jerry Seinfeld opines, the “rules of the game”. For attorneys, these rules lead us in our profession; I encourage you to take a moment as we begin 2016 and re-read the State Bar Rules of Professional Conduct.
The basic distinction between ethics and professionalism is that rules of ethics tell us what we must do and professionalism teaches us what we should do. You already know from personal experience, unprofessional behavior comes in many different forms. Last year, a lawyer in Illinois was criticized by that state’s review board for writing letters to opposing counsel and others using words such as “‘fool, idiot, punk, boy, honey, sweetheart, sweetie pie and baby cakes.” This same lawyer also asked correspondents to place their letters “‘in that bodily orifice into which no sun shines”. Clearly, not the way to play the game.
Although the most important rules of our profession, we often take ethics and professionalism for granted. As attorneys, we know they are there and often know a violation when we see one. But, as attorneys, we can never forget we are bound by these rules at the risk of our license. Over the last few years, the Real Property Law Section (RPLS) has worked tirelessly to address one of the most prevalent threats to our profession, the unethical behavior of those who engage in the unauthorized practice of law (UPL). The RPLS Ethics Subcommittee lead by our Chair Phil Wilkins, encourages all members of the section to report acts of UPL to the State Bar through the UPL portal on the RPLS website.
As real estate attorneys, we also need to remember our ethical obligations to zealously represent our clients, yet not lose our ability to be courteous and offer candor to other attorneys. At the Real Property Law Institute, which our Chair Elect Gayle Camp has organized in fine form to be held May 12-14 at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation, we will be privileged to have a national leading expert on Civility and the law present to our section. Civility is professionalism. Both professional and unprofessional behavior can be readily identified when witnessed.
Finally, our ethical and professional obligations as they relate to escrow and other funds must be shared with support staff. For our colleagues in the residential closing world, they have been subjected to the “New World Order” of rules promulgated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the concept of “Know Before you Owe” under the TILA RESPA Integrated Disclosures. This era of “TRID” has pushed many practitioners to their limits, establishing new rules which replace long standing practices and create increasing regulations of our industry. We can never lose sight of how important training is for our support staff in regard to the new and old rules. Always take time to re-read the Ethics and Disciplinary Rules and Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct and discuss the same with your staff and associates.
Finally, let us not ever forget our obligations to the newer members of our profession. So often, the real estate legal world is a draw to young attorneys, hanging out their shingles, and making their way into the legal world on their own. Offer to mentor, formally or informally, new attorneys. Offer to be a sounding board; take them to lunch to offer an ear and don’t ever hesitate to offer constructive thoughts to place younger lawyers on the path to ethical and professional success.
As always, I welcome the opportunity to speak with you as to your concerns, comments, suggestions or questions. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 678 280-1922.
Thank you for this opportunity to serve you.