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Teachable Moments: Students Tackle Ethical Dilemmas in Presentations to Legal Professionals

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Miami Law student James Lechter.

Miami Law students James Lechter, at left, and Sean Holas. (Photo: Provided to Miami Law) Full-Size Photo

Students in Miami Law's Professional Responsibility and Ethics Program recently led a two-hour ethics training session for the Housing Umbrella Group, a group of Florida housing attorneys, at their annual meeting in Tampa.

Earlier, PREP arranged for a similar session for members of the Caribbean Bar Association in Miami. Students James Lechter and Sean Holas, under the guidance of PREP director Jan Jacobowitz, gave both presentations. The Caribbean Bar Association training focused on the ethical implications of technological advances, including how to maintain a compliant website; concerns about clients sending emails from the workplace; how meta tags – which provide technical information about web pages – can become impermissible; the implications of using Facebook and LinkedIn to research prospective jurors and witnesses; and the newly amended rules regulating advertising.

"The Caribbean Bar Association members' enthusiastic participation and sharing of experiences made for a terrific learning experience," Lechter said. "I found the members' insights about attorney advertising in the business of law riveting."

The Housing Umbrella Group's meeting in Tampa, which gathered dozens of lawyers from non-profit organizations throughout the state, was designed to keep members abreast of changes in the field. The ethics training, developed in part from anecdotes submitted in advance by the audience, addressed challenges arising with retainer agreements and fee collection; client candor; clients of diminished capacity; and the use of Facebook to investigate clients' claims and defenses.

Jeffrey Hearne, Director of Miami Law's Tenants' Rights Clinic, Advocacy Director of the Tenants' Rights Project at the Legal Services of Greater Miami and Co-Chair of the Housing Umbrella Group, said by e-mail that PREP's presentation was one of the highlights of the annual training. "Jan, James and Sean focused on common ethical issues housing attorneys must deal with, such as negotiating attorneys' fees and client conflicts," he said. "Their hypotheticals lead to a lively debate between advocates and gave us a better understanding of the ethical rules."

Holas said that it was gratifying to tackle real-life ethical dilemmas that nonprofit housing attorneys frequently encounter. "The audience participation was amazing," he added. "They really cared about what we were teaching."