Law Tips NEW: Law Practice Management for Attorneys & Non-Attorneys

Law firms are continually solving practice management issues. But those with spouses working together add another layer to the mix.

Recently, during ICLEF’s 2012 Elder Law Institute, two of our generous faculty members shared their experiences in an attorney and non-attorney spouse working relationship. Jennifer and Tom Ebbinghouse, Ebbinghouse Law Group, Indianapolis, came together a few years ago when Jennifer left the company where she designed and implemented a program to transition their CNAs to licensed practical nurses. She has a degree in nursing and is now the customer services specialist and marketing manager for the Ebbinghouse firm. She supports her husband, Tom, and his brother, Rick, in their role as tax attorneys.

As they worked out Jennifer’s role, she became aware of the issues concerning attorneys’ advertising rules and her own restrictions as a non-attorney in the group’s activities. Perhaps their experiences will shed some light on the possible concerns for others. Following are excerpts from their CLE presentation:

As Jennifer is working in the office in a support capacity, the issues of nondisclosure faced by two attorneys with different clients does not arise. Listed here are the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct that relate to issues one will want to consider in a similar circumstance:

Rule 5.3  Responsibilities Regarding Non-lawyer Assistants
Rule 7.2  Advertising
Rule 7.3  Direct Contact with Prospective Clients
Rule 7.4  Communication of Fields of Practice and Specialization

As Jennifer would have to learn attorneys are not allowed to use some of the most effective advertising methods, such as testimonials. The marketers Tom and Jennifer came in contact with were always amazed by the limitations imposed by our Rules of Professional Conduct. They would need to determine how to emphasize Tom’s IRS Tax Problem Resolution practice. Tom had been admitted to the Tax Court in 1983, but not certified as a specialist by an Independent Certifying Organization accredited by the Indiana Commission for Continuing Legal Education pursuant to Admission and Discipline Rule 30. Tom has many years of experience in the tax problem resolution practice. Jennifer would come up with different ways of trying to communicate Tom’s experience without running afoul of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Tom would have to supervise the work of his non-attorney spouse on these matters to determine if, in his opinion, his wife’s wonderful marketing piece could be used as written.

Tom and Rick Ebbinghouse have had many discussions as to just what is and is not allowed under our Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct. The Rules required Jennifer to let the lawyers make those determinations. On some occasions Rick would lament that Indiana does not have a hotline, as some other states do, which the attorneys can call to discuss a proposed course of action and to learn if it complies with the rules or what suggested changes are to comply with the rules.

One advertising tool used by the firm is a newsletter that includes legal information authored by the lawyers as well as a few non-legal touches, such as Tom’s mother’s pie crust recipe.  Another example of Jennifer’s marketing materials allowed under the Rules of Professional Conduct is the piece entitled “Top Ten Tax Mistakes You Can Avoid.”  This informational item is well received in presentations to attorneys at law firm management conferences. To download a PDF, Click Here.

There are surely unique management challenges to the attorney and non-attorney working relationship. But, Jennifer and Tom Ebbinghouse seem to be tackling the hurdles with finesse. Here are their closing comments in this regard:

Being married and working in the same law office is not for everyone. A frank discussion of what the Rules of Professional Conduct require of the attorney and the non-attorney spouse before you begin is highly recommended. With that being said, we love working together!

Thanks again to our faculty contributors for their frank law practice management discussion. Their full presentation is included in ICLEF’s 2012 Elder Law Institute available as an ICLEF Online / On-Demand seminar. Click here for Day 1   – or –  Click Here for Day 2 of the 2012 Elder Law Institute. This CLE is available at your convenience and offers 6 hours per day of CLE credit in areas from ACA to special tips on consulting with your older client.

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About our Law Tips faculty contributor:
Tom S. Ebbinghouse, Ebbinghouse Law Group, Indianapolis, earned his law degree from Indiana University School of Law at Bloomington in 1980. Tom was a Law Clerk for two years for the Honorable Robert H. Staton, Indiana Court of Appeals. In 1982 he opened his practice in Indianapolis concentrating in IRS tax problem resolution (admitted to U.S. Tax Court in 1983), Elder Law-incapacity (advance directives and guardianships), disability and long-term health care issues (Social Security and Medicaid planning), wealth preservation (trusts and wills), and estate administration. He is also a member of the American Society of Tax Problem Solvers and National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Inc.

Jennifer Ebbinghouse, Customer Services Specialist and Marketing Manager for Ebbinghouse Law Group, defines her passion as “to help people get their life back from the IRS by supporting her husband, Tom, and brother-in-law, Rick, in their role as tax attorneys in the group.” Jennifer graduated from Ivy Tech College with a degree in medical assisting and earned her degree in nursing from the University of Indianapolis.

About our Law Tips blogger:
Nancy Hurley, Law Tips blogger, has long-standing connections with Indiana lawyers. She was formerly a member of the ISBA and IBF staffs for over 30 years. Nancy’s latest lifestyle venture is with ICLEF. We are utilizing her exceptional writing and interviewing skills while exploring how her Indiana-lawyer background fits with ICLEF’s needs. When she isn’t ferreting out new topics for Law Tips, her work can be found in our Speaker Spotlight blogs, postings on the ICLEF Facebook and Twitter pages, and other places her legal experience lends itself.

Thank you for reading Law Tips. You may subscribe to this weekly blog through the RSS link at the top of this page.  Also, you are encouraged to comment below or email Nancy   She welcomes your input as she continues to sift through the treasure trove of knowledge of our CLE faculty to share with you on Law Tips.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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