Legal Ethics

For the past few weeks, I’ve been writing about law school hoping that it would help would-be law students make an informed decision. I exposed some misperceptions about law school that no one discussed. I also suggested some cost-effective and possibly lucrative alternatives to a legal education. And I wrote about some last-minute things to consider before going to law school.

But some of you will still go to law school for the wrong reasons and pay rip-off prices. Ego, familial expectations, and peer pressure may play a role in your decision. So I want to finish the law-school-themed posts by issuing a warning to students and their parents about the consequences of graduating without a meaningful job and with six figure, nearly nondischargeable student loan debt….

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Ah, the billable hour. It is the bane of many attorneys’ existence, and almost anyone who has spent time within a law firm has their own story about… ethical lapses surrounding billing. Maybe it’s something seemingly small or benign like always rounding up when tracking working time or billing through bathroom breaks (or Farmville breaks) because, hey, your brain was still thinking about the issue. Or maybe it’s billing the exact number of hours a partner believes a task should take, no matter how quickly you are actually able to charge through it.

The perverse incentives created by billing by the hour (especially when the attorneys involved have billable requirements for either their job security or their expected bonus) for legal work has been well tread, but sometimes a document review attorney has a really clever excuse….

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Forfeiture law is insane.

There are lots of reasons to hate criminal forfeiture. You could dislike forfeiture because of the way law enforcement uses it to target poor people, the way law enforcement takes small sums of money that no reasonable person would fight over, the way some law man down south threatened parents with choosing between being arrested and having their kids put in foster care or forfeiting their cash, or even the way it creates insane incentives for cops to fund themselves by taking money from people whether they ought to or not. (For examples of this stuff, see either The New Yorker or The Daily Show, depending on whether you’re currently trying to impress someone).

Law enforcement wants that forfeiture money. And, as the examples above show, they’re going to do a lot to get it.

Though now, in Baltimore, a forfeiture case has led to an allegation that a federal prosecutor knowingly produced a forged document in a case.

If you believe a law enforcement officer’s testimony under oath.

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Litigators get away with a lot of obnoxious stuff during discovery. For better or worse, the pre-trial discovery phase of civil litigation is every lawyer’s opportunity to relive those times when parents leave kids alone for the first time: every slight, disagreement, and jealousy on a slow boil explodes into anarchic back-biting once there’s no authority figure around to enforce civility. Bring on the mean-spirited letters and smack-talking RFAs.

When it comes to depositions, it doesn’t always reach “fatboy” levels, but a federal deposition isn’t a deposition until someone threatens to call the magistrate — though never does.

Which is why this benchslap, where a federal judge levies a sanction straight out of elementary school, is so appropriate….

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Here’s something I’m envious of as a Canadian lawyer. The United States is filled with celebrity lawyers: Robert Shapiro, Gerry Spence, Harvey Levin (thank you, TMZ), Judge Wapner, Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Lance Ito.

Bobby and Teddy—lawyers.  John, Jr., a prosecutor.  Bill and Hillary and the current POTUS and FLOTUS, lawyers all.

And, of course, the most celebrated American lawyer, Geraldo Rivera (you forgot that, didn’t you?).

The U.S. loves to gawk at its lawyers, making them famous for defending ex-Hertz pitchmen, or for screaming at people on crappy daytime television where they make all judges look like arrogant cork smokers.

What about celebrity lawyers in Canada?

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* Proximate cause and the Incredible Hulk. Whatever, everyone knows Kirby was the real brains behind Palsgraf. [The Legal Geeks]

* Someone is having fun with their RFAs: Admit… that we are going to whip the dog piss out of you. We were specifically chided: “please don’t say ‘only in Arkansas,’” so we won’t. You should feel free to say exactly that though. [Hawg Law Blog]

* Not really surprising, but patent trolling is the worst it has ever been. I’ll sit here and wait for the New York Times to blame millennials. [io9]

* The most important Supreme Court decision you’ve never heard of! Well, except I have heard of it. In fact, there was a year-long college debate topic about it. But it’s still important. [Washington Post]

* What’s the appropriate sentence for having a dog off a leash? Confining the guy to a seven-county area? [LA Weekly]

* Things to do in Denver when you’re a lawyer: allegedly scam a few million off a client. [Denver Post]

* Meet the lawyer who came up with the quirky reading that got the D.C. Circuit to temporarily derail Obamacare. [Wall Street Journal]

* Meanwhile, this title says it all about Halbig: “Well, Conjecture, Tendentious Misreadings, and Cherry Picking Are Kinds of Evidence.” Pour a little out for Lionel Hutz. [Lawyers, Guns & Money]

* Everyday we (the ABA) hustlin’. [Law and More]

For years — since before he was NY State’s governor — we’ve raised questions about Andrew Cuomo’s activities. When he was Attorney General, he often used that position to grandstand around various issues that sounded good politically, but were real world disasters. He browbeat ISPs into policing the internet, when they had no legal obligation to, with bogus threats of lawsuits — even pushing them to install spyware to snoop on everyone’s traffic. He was among the leaders of the group of Attorneys General who wanted to blame high-profile internet companies for the way consumers used them, and he tried to broker a “3 strikes” system to kick file sharers offline. Since becoming governor, he’s been embroiled in a bunch of scandals, including having staffers use private email accounts to hide their work from Freedom of Information laws.

Now, however, things are heating up.

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So it’s come to this. We live in a world where the headline “Lawyer Smacks Judge Repeatedly With Flyswatter” had to be written. That jumble of words came together to honestly describe an actual event.

If you’re still pining to live in a world of trial by combat, have we got the court for you. Consider this the logical progression from a world where judges feel free to physically benchslap attorneys in the hallway — because now the lawyers are fighting back and there are weapons involved.

Granted a plastic flyswatter lacks the heroic appeal of Prince Oberyn’s spear, but it’s a terrifying weapon nonetheless because nobody wants to be hit in the face with a flyswatter.

Watch the rise of alternative dispute resolution take another unsuspected swerve off the road in this closed circuit video feed….

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* Latter-day Dan Fielding seems to have used his office to meet the ladies: alleged to have had an affair with and then impregnate a woman he prosecuted. When she raised the issue with his wife, he filed a motion to revoke her probation. This is all terrible, but the weirdest part was having to have her defense counsel in the bedroom the whole time. [Lexington Herald-Leader]

* Woman shot a guy because he didn’t ejaculate enough. The most dreaded words in that neighborhood must be, “Omar’s not comin’ yo.” [Detroit Free Press]

* What caused the child immigration crisis at the border? Turns out it was Free Slurpee Day. Who knew? [CNBC]

* Overcommunication is a virtue. Did you hear that? Overcommunication is a good thing. It really is. You should overcommunicate. It’s good. [What About Clients?]

* Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III thinks the criminal justice system is just super. As far as innocent people going to jail, them’s the breaks. [Wrongful Convictions Blog]

* A guy’s guide to lawyerly fashion. It misses my personal pet peeve: use collar stays! Seriously, how do people not know this? [Attorney at Work]

* There were a record number of data breaches in New York last year. The problem is the persistent use of 12345 as a password. [Information Law Group]

Judge Stephanie Domitrovich

Do you even ethics bro?

– Language on a t-shirt depicting Judge Stephanie Domitrovich, worn by a man at the Erie County Courthouse yesterday. The man was asked to leave. Judge Domitrovich is currently facing ethics charges having to do with her alleged “unpatient, undignified and discourteous” treatment of parties.

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