Welcome to cowgill.com
My assistants and I have worked hard to make this site a worthwhile destination for those who seek information about legal ethics, attorney disciplinary proceedings and the law governing lawyers. I encourage you to take a tour.
Click on the link to read an overview of this site
Counselor and Attorney at Law
(859) 225-5236 - phone
(859) 225-5237 - fax
Paragon Centre Office Park
2333 Alexandria Drive
Lexington, Kentucky 40504
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Does the old saying hold true even if you're a lawyer?
If you don't think so, ask the lawyers in the Office of Bar Counsel. Ask the lawyers who serve on the KBA Board of Governors. And ask the lawyers who sit on the Character and Fitness Committee. During his service as Chief Bar Counsel, Mr. Cowgill often heard members of each group mention the old saying about "a fool for a client and a fool for a lawyer," moments after lawyers appeared before them in disciplinary and reinstatement proceedings without the benefit of counsel.
They were obviously sorry to see fellow members of the Bar make serious mistakes by trying to represent themselves. But that didn't change the fact that they were required to base their decisions on what was actually presented, not what might have been presented.
Why do capable lawyers shoot themselves in the foot when they try to represent themselves in matters of legal ethics?
The reasons are rather obvious to those who have worked inside the disciplinary system. Here are some of them:
► One of the hallmarks of the legal profession is independent judgment. A lawyer cannot see his own problem objectively any more than others can.
► Disciplinary proceedings are sui generis something unique unto themselves. They are different than civil and criminal proceedings in a number of ways. A lawyer's experience in civil or criminal litigation, no matter how vast, may actually cause him to make bad choices or conduct himself inappropriately in the legal ethics arena.
For example, most lawyers mistakenly assume that a bar complaint is the functional equivalent of a civil complaint or criminal indictment, and should be attacked for insufficiency when it appears insufficient.
A bar complaint is not a "charging document." Rather, it is a piece of information that triggers an investigation by the Office of Bar Counsel. But it may also be the only piece of information which indicates that the lawyer did anything improper.
Consequently, the length and detail of the response require the exercise of good judgment, ideally with the assistance of someone who can read between the lines and anticipate the questions of other readers.
► The most important phase of a disciplinary case is the one that comes first: the response to the bar complaint. Many lawyers make the mistake of "whipping off" a response on the assumption that they will be given an opportunity to express themselves more carefully and completely if the bar complaint is not summarily dismissed. All too often, they find that they are haunted by ill-considered language in the response at every stage of the disciplinary process.
► If there was ever a day when the organized bar was just a bunch of "good ol' boys," that day is clearly gone. The Kentucky Office of Bar Counsel is staffed with seven full-time attorneys who take their responsibilities seriously. They are not hesitant to investigate and prosecute any matter that appears worthy of their attention. They read the Rules of Professional Conduct as routinely as most lawyers read the civil or criminal rules, and they are just as comfortable applying those rules to the fact patterns that come across their desks.
It happens in other contexts as well
In other contexts as well, lawyers are often penny-wise and pound-foolish when it comes to hiring an attorney.
For example, lawyers often try to defend themselves in the early phases of a motion to disqualify, in the hope they can persuade the trial court to summarily deny the motion and get on with the case at hand. All too often, the result is that they make ill-considered arguments that are captured on the record and come back to haunt them when the issue isn't resolved immediately.
It is commonplace for the Office of Bar Counsel to request pleadings, transcripts and videotapes from Circuit Court Clerks, to see what a lawyer wrote and said before he became the subject of a bar complaint or investigative file. All too often, a lawyer finds himself watching the video for the first time while sitting across the table from Bar Counsel in a disciplinary hearing.
In short, prudent lawyers are well-advised to follow the same advice they would give a client: don't try to handle your own legal matter.