State Bar Of Michigan Offers Practice Seminar

April 28, 2008
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LANSING — The State Bar of Michigan is holding one of its most popular seminars next week, one that is designed to strengthen and streamline legal practices.

Tips and Tools for a Successful Practice is a one-day workshop that runs from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. May 7 in the State Bar headquarters at 306 Townsend Street in Lansing.

“Anyone is welcome to attend, but it will probably be most helpful and informative to those attorneys that are in smaller practices or are solo,” said Victoria Kremski, deputy division director of the State Bar of Michigan’s Professional Standards Division.

Kremski is one of 10 speakers lined up for the workshop; she will use her afternoon session to talk about how attorneys can get help with ethical dilemmas. Stephen Vella will also speak. His noon session could easily be viewed by a business client as a “how not to practice law” advisory.

Vella is a senior associate counsel with the Attorney Grievance Commission in Detroit and he will talk about the 10 most common complaints clients have made about their attorneys. Vella was quick to point out that the list he will present isn’t a scientific one that has come from an exhaustive survey. Instead, the list is a compilation of the complaints he has received from clients over his past 11 years at the grievance commission, the last six as an intake attorney.

“It’s based on my experiences of seeing the grievances when they first come in the door and trying to decide how we handle them initially, from the standpoint of do we open up a file or do we not open a file, do we request an answer from a lawyer or not, can we try to resolve the problem or is it something that’s not going to be resolved quickly, or maybe not going to be resolved at all but is going to have to be resolved in a disciplinary hearing,” Vella said of the options the commission has.

Here are a few of the complaints clients have made with the commission:

**My attorney won’t respond to my questions and requests for information.

Vella said this is a communications problem and a dangerous complaint because it usually leads to other major issues that can damage an attorney-client relationship even further — like the three that follow.

**My attorney will not keep me informed about my case.

This complaint differs from the first one as the client isn’t requesting information, but is expecting to be kept informed because that is part of an attorney’s duty to a client.

“If something significant is happening in a case, then they should be reporting to the client. If a motion has been filed by the other side, they’d want to know that — that sort of thing,” he said. “Communication is the lawyer’s responsibility.”

**My attorney is neglecting my case.

Vella said this complaint can cover a multitude of perceived gripes about a lawyer that may range from not pursuing a case aggressively enough, to not filing one quickly enough, to not speaking with enough witnesses.

**My attorney stole my money.

Vella said the commission doesn’t get this complaint a lot but does consider it to be “one of the most egregious offenses” a lawyer can commit.

“It’s one of the few types of attorney misconduct that the level of discipline starts with disbarment,” he said. “In Michigan, disbarment is for five years. We do not have permanent disbarment. After five years, an attorney can petition to get their license back. But they also have to go through a character-and-fitness review by the State Bar, which is called recertification.”

In 2006, the most recent data year, the Attorney Grievance Commission received 3,575 complaints, roughly the same number it received the previous seven years but hundreds fewer than in 1998 and 1999. Of the total complaints in 2006, only 203 were sent on for formal complaint to the Attorney Discipline Board, which conducts hearings under state civil law rules.

Criminal law logged the most complaints in 2006, with nearly four of every 10 coming from that field. In the realm of business, commercial law drew 7 percent, bankruptcy law 5 percent, real estate transactions 3 percent, and employment-labor law 2 percent.

In addition to Kremski and Vella, the workshop will also feature Robert Agacinski, grievance administrator of the Attorney Grievance Commission; Mark Armitage, deputy director of the Attorney Discipline Board; Martha Burkett, program administrator for the State Bar of Michigan Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program; Diane Ebersole and JoAnn Hathaway,  both practice management advisors with the State Bar’s Practice Management Resource Center; Dawn Evans, division director of the State Bar’s Professional Standards Division; Kenneth Lewis, a shareholder with Plunkett & Cooney; and Ken Mogill, a partner at Mogill, Posner & Cohen.

The seminar costs $75. More event information is available at

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