“Legal Eagle” Addendum

    By Credit Union

    Andy Keeney was recently featured for his letter to the editor in the November 2010 issue of Credit Union Management magazine.

    I would like to offer my compliments and a few comments on your recent article, Your Legal Eagle – When do you need an attorney on staff? I found this article to be of particular interest since over the years I have worn a number of hats.

    For nearly three years, I served as the in-house legal counsel to State Department Federal Credit Union. Thereafter, I served for nearly five years as the in-house general counsel for Pentagon Federal Credit Union. I have served as special retained counsel to NCUA in a complex real estate matter. I have testified on behalf of CUNA and NAFCU on Capitol Hill.

    Presently, I have a private practice and serve as retained counsel to a large number of credit unions. Hence, the issues raised in the article clearly hit home.

    Your article properly addresses a number of options for consideration by credit unions, but overlooks a few items.

    There are tremendous benefits for a credit union to have an attorney on staff. However, as with the complexity of running a credit union, being a credit union attorney has also increased the complexity of practicing law. Credit union attorneys now must confront such issues as compliance, collections, governance, employment law, trademark law, contract law and litigation, just to name a few.

    I doubt if any attorney, be it either a staff attorney or outside counsel, could excel and satisfactorily address issues in all of these specific areas. More and more often, we are becoming a practice group of specialties, both in the operation of credit unions as well as in the practice of law. If an attorney becomes a staff attorney for a credit union, I would recommend that he or she negotiate up front with the credit union a budget so that specialty attorneys could be utilized on a selective basis and within budget to assist the staff attorney.

    Speaking of budgets, the staff attorney should also obtain authorization to attend and participate in such groups as the American Bar Association. As you may know, the American Bar Association has a Committee on Credit Unions, and at one of the Committee’s most recent meetings we had over 50 credit union attorneys in attendance.

    The staff attorney should also inquire as to malpractice insurance coverage. Perhaps the credit union insurance company would not cover legal advice and legal counsel under their general insurance package of protection.

    Now, for those credit unions that elect not to have a staff attorney, and perhaps are considering obtaining legal counsel in an effort to control costs and expenses, the article suggests some ways the credit unions can research the issue. I believe the best approach is to follow one of the current themes of NCUA, and that is for the credit union to do their due diligence. A decision to obtain legal counsel is as important a decision as hiring a person on a credit union’s management team. References should be sought. Credit unions should contact other credit unions in their area to see what attorneys they use and who they would recommend.

    Again, my compliments on an outstanding article.

    The contents of this publication are intended for general information only and should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on specific facts and circumstances. Copyright 2022.