Law Firms

New Pa. Bar Ethics Opinion – Obligations of Lawyers Working Remotely

The Pennsylvania Bar Association Committee on Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility today issued Formal Opinion 2020-300 – Ethical Obligations of Attorneys Working Remotely. The Opinion is intended to provide global guidance to attorneys working from home, not only during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also for those who will work remotely even after the situation returns to “normal.” I am a Vice Chair of and the incoming Chair of the PBA Committee and a contributor to the Opinion. Click here to read the Pa. Bar Association Formal Opinion.

The Opinion provides an ethical analysis of the obligations of attorneys and their staff about how to best comply with their obligation to preserve client confidentiality. In the Introduction, the Opinion states:

“At a minimum, when working remotely, attorneys and their staff have an obligation under the Rules of Professional Conduct to take reasonable precautions to assure that:

  • “All communications, including telephone calls, text messages, email, and video conferencing are conducted in a manner that minimizes the risk of inadvertent disclosure of confidential information;
  • Information transmitted through the Internet is done in a manner that ensures the confidentiality of client communications and other sensitive data;
  • Their remote workspaces are designed to prevent the disclosure of confidential information in both paper and electronic form;
  • Proper procedures are used to secure and backup confidential data stored on electronic devices and in the cloud;
  • Any remotely working staff are educated about and have the resources to make their work compliant with the Rules of Professional Conduct; and,
  • Appropriate forms of data security are used.

This Opinion adopts conclusions from the American Bar Association’s Formal Opinion 477R and provides practical – use-it-now – suggestions for how attorneys can adopt best practices.

My law firm, Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel, LLC, and my consulting firm, Integrated Technology Services, LLC, provide techno-ethical guidance to attorneys about the issues addressed in the Opinion, and I have been writing and lecturing about these topics for more than a decade.

If you are a lawyer or firm administrator and need guidance on the ethical and/or the technological issues confronting attorneys and staff working remotely, contact Dan Siegel, Christa High or Pam Myers; we are the pioneers of techno-ethics and are here to help you.

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Influencers of the Law – They Aren’t All in Large Firms

Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer has an entire section devoted to advertising for, oops, I meant highlighting the achievements of large law firms. Called “Influencers of the Law,” the section focuses on the accomplishments of many large law firms in the Philadelphia area. It also includes (not inexpensive) advertisements for 15 of the firms whose attorneys are featured in the section.

But there was something missing, a big something.

That something was a list of attorneys who practice in solo and small firms whose efforts on behalf of their clients are as admirable and worthy of recognition as the attorneys the Inquirer chose to feature. I could name a dozen such attorneys off the top of my head, whose omission is inexplicable. Because it’s not just the large firms who cases influence the law.

Consider our two-attorney firm. In the past year, for example, we were counsel in two landmark Pennsylvania Supreme Court cases – Protz and Bristol – both of which will have a dramatic impact on future claims for countless injured workers and persons injured in auto accidents. In addition, we are counsel in three pending Supreme Court cases – which are likely to have a similar impact. But like our counterparts in other small injured victim-focused firms, the Inquirer chose to ignore us. Click here to view a summary of some of our cases that changed the law.

Protz, for example, has been called the most important Pennsylvania workers’ compensation case since 1983. In the case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act’s impairment rating examination violated the Pennsylvania Constitution. By declaring this provision unconstitutional, the Supreme Court invalidated the arbitrary 500-week limit on wage losses that reduced the rights of the overwhelming majority of injured workers.

In Bristol, the Pennsylvania Supreme extended the deadline (statute of limitations) for filing claims by underinsured motorists. Before this decision, the deadline for filing these claims was dramatically and arbitrarily limited. This is a game-changing case and one where lawyers have commented how Attorney Dan Siegel’s oral argument made a difference.  Click here to view Dan Siegel’s oral argument before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

So when you need an attorney, remember that small firms are just as impactful as large firms, but we typically have lower fees, are client-focused (after all, some large firms are paying newly-minted lawyers fresh out of law school $190,000 a year, when they have never handled a case as a licensed attorney – who do you think pays for these lawyers’ on-the-job education?), and our lawyers have been there and done that.

I remember years ago learning about one now-retired lawyer, Steve Feldman, who was a solo his entire career. What did I discover? That Steven was involved in virtually every major case that addressed the rights of injured persons – and he was a solo. Lawyers practice as solos and in small firms for many reasons, just as do lawyers in massive corporate firms. It’s not the size of the firm that matters, it’s the lawyer handling the case. In that vien, the Inquirer’s “Influencers of the Law” missed the mark.

 

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Professionals @High_Risk on Social Media

Pundits swiftly smacked down Rosanne’s recent racist and anti-Semitic tweets, comparing them with New York Lawyer Aaron Schlossberg’s videotaped, racist rant against people for standing in front of him in a line. In a situation, where honestly, blameless people were supporting a local business, Attorney Schlossberg fumed at them shamelessly, calling them undocumented immigrants for inconveniencing him. He went so far as to threaten to report them to “ICE” (the deportation and enforcement branch of the United States Customs Immigration Service (USCIS)).

This has raised a question of whether the “digital divide” is blurring the line between opinionated and derogatory. Have we abandoned the ancient wisdom passed down to us from prior generations?

  • “If you would not feel comfortable saying it to your grandmother, then don’t put it in writing.”
  • “If you wouldn’t want to see it in the newspaper, then don’t say it.” Or,
  • “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

Sound familiar?

Of course, the novelty and thrill of seeing one’s opinion in print makes social media platforms addictive. Facebook builds upon the indescribable feeling that getting “likes” simulates. It cannot be understood from a rational dimension separate from the feelings that posts create. There are millions of people on Twitter; rationally speaking, does your opinion even matter? The rational answer is generally no, not even if you’re the President of the United States.

As we increasingly publicize our own views, we simultaneously begin to believe that our views are important. By narrowing our focus on our limited perspective, we may fail to honestly assess the valid opinions of others. We lose our audience. We gain only extreme followers who share our views. As a result, the world around us begins to shrink. Our newsfeed populates with limited perspective.

Like Roseanne or Schlossberg, professionals are the most high-risk population on social media because they can lose their reputation, clients, dignity and prestige from a poorly worded post. As we have the most to lose, we must think twice about what we say, how we say it, and be ever mindful of the risks of posts being conscience-shocking, racist, bigoted, and/or incriminating. Is your opinion perhaps unique only because no one would ever actually say it to their grandmother?

Not only does social media pose a risk to a professional’s reputation, it may put an injured person at risk if they post on Facebook, or put an attorney at risk for attorney discipline or a legal malpractice claim if they reveal client information online. If you or someone you know has a personal injury matter or you are a lawyer with a professional discipline matter, call the Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel, LLC, the lawyer other lawyers call for advice.

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Voting has closed in the Delco’s Best Lawyers poll.

Thank you for voting for the Havertown Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel, LLC in the Delco’s Best Lawyers poll in our major practice areas: Appellate; Personal Injury; Workers’ Compensation.  Voting ended Thursday, March 8th.

Here’s why we believe we have earned your support.

  • In 2017, we were appellate counsel, and won, two Pennsylvania Supreme Court cases, that expanded the rights of injured workers (workers’ compensation) and auto crash victims (personal injury). No other firm in Pennsylvania can say that! We won many other cases at trial, or on appeal, and settled numerous other matters without the need for trial.
  • 2/3rds of our clients are lawyers. They hire us to serve as appellate counsel or to assist them in preparing their complex workers’ compensation and personal injury cases. As part of these services, nearly 2,000 attorneys and judges read our monthly newsletter highlighting recent Pennsylvania appeals court decisions.
  • We are especially proud of our reputation for representing our friends and neighbors throughout Delaware County and the Main Line in their cases.

Our office is proud of our reputation for providing high quality legal services in an affordable client-focused manner.

We are also proud that we have been recognized by our peers in Super Lawyers and Best Lawyers in America.

For these reasons, we thank our clients and friends who voted in the poll for Delco’s Best Lawyers.

THANK YOU FOR NEARLY 13 YEARS OF REPRESENTING OUR FRIENDS, NEIGHBORS & COLLEAGUES THROUGHOUT DELAWARE COUNTY, THE MAIN LINE, AND THE PHILADELPHIA AREA!

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Underdogs – The Philadelphia Eagles Theme Resonates for This Lawyer

By now, everyone has heard about the Philadelphia Eagles and their rise to football supremacy as underdogs – the team that no one respected. On Sunday, we’ll see if the Eagles prove just how underrated and disrespected they were by winning the ultimate NFL prize, the Super Bowl.

Many people have expressed disbelief that being an underdog, or being disrespected, can be a motivator. I can attest that it can be and is a tremendous motivator. I know from experience, and have used that experience to motivate me even more to assure the best results for every client.

 In law school, I had no interest in joining a large firm, and never seriously attempted to be on law review. As a result, classmates (and some law firms) didn’t take my legal skills seriously.

As a lawyer, I have always practiced in small firms. Invariably, when involved in cases with attorneys from large firms, I could sense their assumption that I was not as capable as they were because they were on law review, or came from a more prestigious school than Temple, from which I graduated, ignoring the fact that many of our region’s finest lawyers attended this hometown law school.

When I ventured out as a solo, the stigmas became more obvious, and sometimes lawyers did not hide their derision. Then they would read one of my briefs, or hear my oral argument, and their perspective changed, dramatically. Just last year I was hired as appellate counsel in a complex personal injury matter that the trial court had dismissed. I called opposing counsel to request an extension of time to file our brief. Our conversation was laden with condescension.

Then my opponent, a graduate of an Ivy League university and a “top 20” law school (compared with Temple’s ranking at number 50), and a partner at a large firm, received my brief, and heard the argument in the appellate court. His attitude became far less superior, and it changed even more when the court ruled in my client’s favor and reversed his victory. Even worse, his client hired another lawyer to handle the case.

I have always had confidence in my skills, and know that there is a reason judges regularly comment about the quality of my firm’s work. One Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice recently approached me out of the blue, and began to tell me (in front of numerous other attorneys) how “exceptional” and “extraordinary” my brief was in a case that had been argued earlier that day.

Each of us measures our success differently, and each of us uses different tools to motivate ourselves. For me, the fact that some lawyers believe they are superior because of where they went to law school motivates me not only to win but also to demonstrate that my decision to live at home and attend one of the finest law schools in the country, albeit not one in the “top 20,” does not mean that my skills are better, or worse, than an attorney who graduated from another school.

When I consider the number of precedential cases in which I have served as counsel, I understand fully why the Philadelphia Eagles wear their underdog status as a badge of honor, and use it to help drive them toward a championship. Each of us must earn respect from our colleagues, and often the only way to do so is to defeat a supposedly “superior” opponent. Underdogs understand how hard they have to work to gain respect – and win. Let’s go Eagles!

 

 

 

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Pick a leader, not a law firm that plays follow the leader — and takes credit for the leader’s success

We all remember the childhood game of “Follow the Leader.” Some lawyers still play the game, and want to take the credit for the leader’s work. The recent Court decision in Protz v. WCAB in which Attorney Dan Siegel authored the friend of the court brief for the Pennsylvania Association for Justice — which invalidated the Impairment Rating Evaluation (IRE) process under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, is a great example. Just look around, watch the ads on TV, and listen to your radio to learn about all the law firms who suddenly are “there” to help the injured workers whose benefits were increased as a result of Protz. They are the followers.

In a recent email, one law firm, which devotes countless dollars to advertising,  admitted that the firm had “been waiting” for the decision, which it described as “the most significant workers’ compensation decision in years, if not decades. The recent ruling should ensure that thousands of injured workers across the Commonwealth will continue to receive necessary benefits aligned with the true extent and duration of their injuries.” I thank the firm for acknowledging that the lawyers handling Protz ensured that thousands of injured workers across the Commonwealth will continue to receive necessary benefits aligned with the true extent and duration of their injuries. I also thank them for acknowledging that “Pressure and time were key to this monumental decision.”

Who applied the pressure? Not the firm quoted above. The lawyers who championed this cause included Dan Siegel, Thomas Baumann of Abes Baumann in Pittsburgh (who authored a terrific brief and argued the case superbly before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court), Larry Chaban, Brian Steiner, and a small group of lawyers who discovered the issue and were determined to fight until the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled. Most firms did nothing; many never even realized that there were Constitutional problems with IREs. One firm now brags that since 2016 they were “denying ALL IRE requests.” Our firm – the Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel, LLC – has  objected to having our clients attend IRE exams since 2010 (more than six years before the follower firm began to follow the leaders).

Most importantly, insurance companies defending against our cases made generous settlements to avoid facing our firm in a Pennsylvania appeals court. 

It is easy to jump on a bandwagon, but our firm has been willing to take the lead and fight in court, where results matter, not just in newspaper articles, where bravado can win the day. Our successes mean that injured workers throughout Pennsylvania receive more benefits — and we have always fought to expand the rights of all injured victims. Consider the list of precedential cases handled by Dan Siegel:

Verizon Pennsylvania Inc. v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Ketterer), 2014 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 162 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Mar. 12, 2014)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that a physician must have an active clinical practice, i.e., the physician must provide preventive care and the evaluation, treatment and management of medical conditions, at least 20 hours per week, in order to be qualified to perform Impairment Rating Evaluations under Section 306(a.2)(1) of the Workers’ Compensation Act, 77 P.S. § 551.2(1).

Ferguson v. Morton, 2013 PA Super 329, 2013 Pa. Super. LEXIS 4574 (Pa.Super. 2012)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the trial court’s order granting a new trial based upon the inflammatory closing argument by plaintiff’s counsel. In particular, the Court held that trial court erred in presuming that the jury’s verdict improperly included punitive damages. Thus, the trial court abused its discretion by concluding that the summation so prejudiced the jury as to require a new trial.

Commonwealth v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Harvey), 993 A.2d 270 (Pa. 2010)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed that the use of actuarial data to calculate pension offsets for injured employees who also receive pension benefits from a defined benefit plan. By not foreclosing a claimant’s ability to challenge the calculations and the assumptions underlying them, injured workers may still employ actuaries to establish when improper and inaccurate calculations form the basis for a claimed offset.

Philadelphia Gas Works v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Amodei), 964 A.2d 963 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2009)

This en banc Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court decision held that when an employer seeks an offset from workers’ compensation benefits for pension benefits paid to an injured employee, the offset must be calculated based upon the net amount of the benefits received by the worker.

McElheney v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Kvaerner Phila. Shipyard), 940 A.2d 351 (Pa. 2008)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a worker injured while on a ship in a graven dry dock was not injured upon the “navigable waters of the United States,” and was entitled to benefits under both the federal Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act and the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act. The Court ruled that the graven dry dock, which by definition was cut and dug out of the land, was not within the limits of the navigable waters of the United States.

Thorne v. Miller, 317 N.J. Super. 554, 722 A.2d 626 (1998)

This is the first reported case in New Jersey to address the obligation of a driver who waves or signals another vehicle into traffic. The trial court held that a driver who waves to another driver to proceed is under a duty of reasonable care that, at the least, requires the driver who waved to observe whether traffic conditions were such as to allow the other driver to proceed without accident; whether, in this case, the waving driver breached that duty and whether the breach was a proximate cause of the accident is for the jury.

Smith v. Pulcinella, 440 Pa. Super. 525, 656 A.2d 494 (1995)

This Pennsylvania Superior Court decision extended to general negligence cases the malpractice doctrine that, where the conduct of two or more tortfeasors causes an injury, and the damages cannot be reasonably apportioned among the negligent parties, any one of the tortfeasors may be held responsible for the entire verdict if that party’s negligence was a substantial contributing factor in causing the plaintiff’s injuries.

Curran v. Greate Bay Hotel & Casino, 434 Pa. Super. 368, 643 A.2d 687 (1994)

This Pennsylvania Superior Court en banc decision analyzed when a verdict may be reduced under the Comparative Negligence Act, and also held that the failure to request the correction of an inconsistent jury verdict constitutes a waiver of any objection to the verdict.

Denny’s v. Workmen’s Compensation Appeal Board (Stanton), 142 Pa.Cmwlth. 531, 597 A.2d 1241 (1991)

This Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court decision specified those actions by employees that are in furtherance of an employer’s business, thus requiring an employer to provide worker’s compensation benefits to employees injured under the circumstances.

Walsh v. City of Philadelphia, 526 Pa. 222, 585 A.2d 445 (1991)

This Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision defined the nature of permissible claims against municipalities under the Recreational Use of Land and Water Act, and outlines the standard for the types of injuries for which local governmental bodies are responsible for damages under the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act.

So, when you are seeking a lawyer, consider whether they are willing to truly fight, or if they prefer to follow the leader.

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Please vote for the Havertown Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel, LLC in the Delco’s Best Lawyers poll.

Please vote for the Havertown Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel, LLC in the Delco’s Best Lawyers poll in our major practice areas: Appellate; Personal Injury; Workers’ Compensation. To do so, go to http://pa.journalregister.com/delcotimes/toplawyers/. Here’s why we believe we have earned your support.

Our office is proud of our reputation for providing high quality legal services in an affordable client-focused manner. We are also proud that we have been recognized by our peers in Super Lawyers and Best Lawyers in America. One of the differences that we do not often discuss is that the majority of our clients are lawyers, who hire us to handle their complex appeals, provide guidance on ethical issues, and prepare them for trial. As part of these lawyer-focused services, nearly 2,000 attorneys and judges read our monthly newsletter highlighting recent Pennsylvania appeals court decisions.

February 2017 highlighted these successes:

  • We represented a local church in defense of a claim that it did not maintain its property safely. The Philadelphia jury returned a verdict in favor of our client/the church in 40 minutes.
  • We settled the medical benefits portion of a workers’ compensation claim for $685,134.40, for a client with a serious back injury. The total settlements for this client have exceeded $800,000.00.
  • We were hired as appeals counsel in a case in which the trial court dismissed claims by two student athletes who were injured in a football practice drill. In the case, the Superior Court refused to enforce a release that would have insulated a college and others from liability. The Court agreed that a jury should decide whether the college’s failure to have qualified athletic trainers at the practice, and its use of a dangerous tackling drill, constituted gross negligence or recklessness.

For these reasons, we ask our clients and friends to vote in the poll for Delco’s Best Lawyers. Just go to http://pa.journalregister.com/delcotimes/toplawyers/.

THANK YOU FOR NEARLY 12 YEARS OF REPRESENTING OUR FRIENDS, NEIGHBORS & COLLEAGUES THROUGHOUT DELAWARE COUNTY AND THE PHILADELPHIA AREA!

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Law Offices Of Daniel J. Siegel Named to Best Law Firms in America

November 1, 2016 – The Havertown/Philadelphia Area Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel, LLC has been named to the “Best Law Firms” rankings for firms in the area of Workers’ Compensation – Claimants (Injured Workers). Published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers, the listings “recognize [the firm] for professional excellence with persistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. Achieving a tiered ranking signals a unique combination of quality law practice and breadth of legal expertise.”

To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have a lawyer listed in The Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top 4 percent of practicing attorneys in the U.S. Attorney Daniel J. Siegel, who founded the firm in 2005, is listed in Best Lawyers, and has also been recognized by his peers in other rankings.

The announcement is particularly well-timed because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard argument today in Protz v. WCAB, a landmark workers’ compensation case in which attorney Siegel authored the amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs on behalf of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice (formerly the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association).

“I am honored that the firm has received this distinction,” said attorney Dan Siegel, “because we are a small client-focused firm with only two attorneys and two support staff. This is a tribute to everyone at the firm and the fact that, although we handle many types of cases, including personal injury, Social Security Disability and wills, our peers recognize the efforts we make on behalf of all of our clients, including the 1000s of injured workers I have represented for more than 32 years.”

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Another victory in the battle over workers’ compensation impairment ratings

Since 2012, our firm has been leading the challenge to the unconstitutionality of the current impairment rating evaluation (IRE) process in Pennsylvania. We have filed numerous briefs explaining in detail why the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Bureau of Labor & Industry’s adoption the guidelines used in the 5th and 6th editions of the AMA Guides violated the Pennsylvania Constitution. In every case in which we addressed the issue – whether it was for one of our firm’s injured workers/clients or on behalf of another law firm that hired us to assist them in their challenges — resolved or resulted in a ruling in favor of the client. That is, the IRE was invalidated or the employer resolved the matter.

Today, I learned that a law firm that hired us to prepare a brief challenging the use of the 5th edition of the AMA Guides was successful. In this case, an IRE was completed in 2006 and a carrier modified claimant’s status, limiting her to 500 weeks of benefits. In 2015, the claimant filed a Petition to set aside the modification, and the Workers’ Compensation Judge agreed, holding that the use of the 5th Edition was invalid. Thus, claimant will continue to receive her wage loss benefits indefinitely.

This is just one example of how we assist our clients – and other law firms – win the tough case. We frequently draft pleadings, motions, briefs, memoranda and appeals for other attorneys on an “as-needed” basis, providing “pinch-hitting” when issues are complex, creative insight is called for, and/or tight deadlines are approaching. We have worked with dozens of law firms, handling a wide variety of legal issues. And of course, we provide the same focus for our injured clients.

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Webinar – Changing Law Firms: Ethical Guidance for Pennsylvania Law Firms and Attorneys

Next Tuesday, August 18th, at 12 noon, I will present a webinar, Changing Law Firms: Ethical Guidance for Pennsylvania Law Firms and Attorneys, based on my ethics book of the same title.

The program will address:

  • General Legal Principles Every Lawyer Should Know
  • General Ethical Considerations Every Lawyer Should Know
  • Deciding Whether to Leave
  • What to Do During the Transition
  • What to Do After Departure
  • What You Should and Shouldn’t Say and Do
  • The Relevant Rules of Professional Conduct
  • Applicable Ethical Guidance Opinions

For more information, or to register, go to http://pbi.peachnewmedia.com/store/seminar/seminar.php?seminar=45757.

 

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