PREP Visits Catholic Charities and Legal Services of Greater Miami to Explore Legal Ethics Issues in Public Interest Law

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Professional Responsibility & Ethics Program (“PREP”) students explore the ethical challenges confronting attorneys in the “real word.” Some of the most compelling of these explorations arise when PREP visits with public interest lawyers. Students learn not only the ethics rules, but also the nature of a public interest law practice.

Under the supervision of director Jan L. Jacobowitz, PREP Fellow Karyn Sanchez and PREP Interns Elizabeth Gil, Vincent Calarco, and Joanne Mason first presented a CLE ethics training, developed in an immigration law context, to Catholic Charities Legal Services.

The presentation included a three-act hypothetical that sparked debate on issues that attorneys at Catholic Charities encounter in their everyday work. The first act, presented by Gil, involved the ethical implications of attorneys who represent concurrent clients who later turn out to have conflicts of interest. The second act, presented by Calarco and Sanchez, dealt with the ethical implications of incompetent clients. The final act, presented by Mason, revolved around the distinct professional responsibilities of attorneys and paralegals.
 
"I enjoyed listening to the attorneys and other members of the organization react to the hypothetical I presented," said Gil. “As a law student, it is a unique experience being able to talk to attorneys about strategies for assisting their clients within the ethical boundaries of the law.”

"You are constantly learning in law school, but through PREP, you research a topic and actually teach what you researched to practicing attorneys,” said Calarco. “To provide research to and engage with attorneys about what I researched was a rewarding experience, and I cannot wait for my next PREP opportunity."

"The CLE training for Catholic Charities was an extremely positive experience,” said Mason. “The participants in the training were very vocal and engaged from both the attorney and paralegal side. I especially loved how some of the participants tweaked our hypo to facilitate a broader discussion."

A few weeks later, Sanchez and PREP Intern Wilford Harris visited Legal Services of Greater Miami. During this training, Sanchez and Harris, along with the participating attorneys, discussed a series of ethical issues that arise in their housing practice.

The CLE training at Legal Services of Greater Miami focused upon the ethics of advising clients to speak directly to an adverse represented party, working with clients with disabilities, and the pressure placed upon public interest lawyers to relinquish statutory attorneys fees as part of a settlement agreement that is beneficial to their clients. The attorneys were engaged in the training and tweaked the facts of the hypotheticals to raise additional issues that facilitated further discussion.

“The CLE training with Legal Services was a great experience,” said Harris. “Learning and teaching at the same time is amazing.”

“The training at Legal Services of Greater Miami provided me with a great opportunity to learn about the difficulties faced by practicing attorneys when trying to help clients gather information from their mortgage companies,” said Sanchez. “It was interesting to research and discuss the issue from the perspectives of both academia and real world practice.”

PREP is an award-winning program, which develops continuing legal education ethics training for the legal community. The program combines the attributes of an ethics institute and an ethics clinic, and has dedicated hundreds of student hours to public service and has educated thousands of members of the Bench & Bar. 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 trainings, 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.