What’s the Worst that Could Happen? The “Baby Lawyer” Exception to Ethical Rules

I recently came across a disciplinary opinion from the State of Nebraska involving a young lawyer. We’ll call him JS.

JS took a job as a law clerk for a solo practitioner while he was in law school. When JS graduated in 2010, he began to work for the solo practitioner full time. Sounds like a good situation so far.

Unfortunately for JS (and more importantly, the clients), his boss began to make serious mistakes. According to the opinion, his boss began missing hearings and spending time out of the office, thereby leaving JS in charge of everything. His boss also directed JS to sign pleadings in her name, and even authorized him to pay himself out of the attorney trust account, which he did.

This didn’t end well for JS, and Nebraska’s Counsel for Discipline didn’t apply the “baby lawyer” exception. Because the “baby lawyer exception to ethical rules” doesn’t exist. The Counsel for Discipline saw it fit to impose public discipline against young JS, which will now follow him forever. JS’s boss was disbarred.

I know it’s tough out there, but if you’re a young lawyer looking for work, don’t take just any job. Make sure that you vet the attorney and the law firm who you’re working for. You just paid a lot of money for your law license, and while I know you have to pay those student loans back, it’s not worth throwing it all away for a job.

You can be held responsible for the errors of your superiors, and the state bar won’t make a “baby lawyer” exception…

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