Legal Ethics

Lawyer Suspended for Accepting Estate-Planning Clients from Direct Mailer

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A Michigan lawyer has agreed to a two-year suspension in Ohio for accepting clients from a company that uses direct mail to market estate-planning services, the Legal Profession Blog reports.

The lawyer, Katherine Jackel of Ann Arbor, made only $175 for work on a financial-planning document that cost the client nearly $2,500, the Ohio Supreme Court said in an opinion yesterday (PDF) imposing the suspension.

Jackel accepted clients from United Financial Systems Corp., a company that hired nonlawyers to meet with consumers who responded to its mailings, the court said. The company would then forward estate-planning information gathered in the meetings to Jackel.

In the case that netted Jackel $175, she spoke with the referred client by phone but did not meet her in person. She then prepared estate-planning documents and forwarded them to United Financial, which obtained the client’s signature and fee.

Jackel stipulated that she violated several ethical prohibitions, including sharing fees with a nonlawyer, revealing client confidences, and asking an organization to promote her services.

The opinion said Jackel had no disciplinary record, was cooperative in the investigation, and terminated her relationship with United Financial once she became aware her conduct violated disciplinary rules.

Michael Frisch, ethics counsel at Georgetown Law Center, posted the opinion to the blog. He wrote that the suspension seemed harsh, but the lawyer may have accepted it since she now lives in another state. Another commenter wondered if the suspension would have ramifications in Michigan, where Jackel now lives.

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