Legal Ethics

Paul Bergrin

This case is about a lawyer who used his law license to disguise the fact that he was a drug dealer, a pimp, and a murderer.

– Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gay, describing defendant Paul Bergrin during opening statements in the New Jersey criminal defense attorney’s murder-racketeering trial.

Earlier this week, we wrote about a pair of prominent partners at Skadden Arps who got hit with a big-time benchslap. A federal judge in Chicago issued an order to show cause, requiring the Skadden lawyers to explain why they should not be sanctioned for failing to cite a highly relevant (arguably dispositive) Seventh Circuit case when briefing a motion to dismiss. The judge also set “a status hearing in open court…. [at which the attorneys] are all directed to appear in person.”

The Skadden partners filed a contrite response. They apologized profusely to the court, explained why they viewed the Seventh Circuit as distinguishable, and argued that even though they erred, their conduct didn’t merit sanctions. They announced to the court that they had settled the case in question, with Skadden “contributing to the settlement amount in order to personally redress plaintiffs’ counsel for responding to the motion to dismiss.” (In a classy move, they also extracted their associate from under the bus, explaining that he played no substantive role in the briefing.)

Despite the apology and the settlement, the status hearing went forward as scheduled yesterday. What happened?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Benchslap Update: Skadden Partners Learn Their Fates”

* The early numbers for the Am Law 100 are in, and it looks like Husch Blackwell’s gross revenue grew by six percent in 2012 after a two-year decline. Hmm… perhaps the firm is saving money by cutting back on its rejection letter proofreaders. [Am Law Daily]

* “If I can’t settle with any of those parties, I will sue them.” Howrey’s trustee, Allan Diamond, plans to sue former partners of the failed firm with a vengeance — and quite “quickly” — if they refuse to cooperate with him. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* Speaking of bankrupt law firms, former Dewey partner Steven Otillar may proceed with his various claims against Citibank over the repayment of his $209K capital contribution loan. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* Anyone remember Amy McTeer, the attorney who doubled as an apparent model for “faces of meth”? She resigned from the bar after allegedly helping her boyfriend escape from jail. Classy! [National Law Journal]

* Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. Attorney whose name was dragged through the mud after Aaron Swartz’s suicide, claims she intended to recommend only a six-month sentence for the deceased internet hero. [Bloomberg]

There is a woman out there who can literally say, “I got screwed by my attorney, and he charged me for it.”

That’s right, in an amazing cacophony of bad behavior, today we have a story about a lawyer who didn’t just have an inappropriate relationship with his client, he also billed her for the time they spent having illicit relations.

Bet you none of these would-be bros have pulled that off….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “When I Get That Feeling, I Want Sexual Billing”

On the transactional side, things seem to be going gangbusters for Skadden Arps. As we noted yesterday, the firm took the top spot in three separate rankings of 2012 M&A work. In 2011, a different firm sat atop each set of rankings, but in 2012, Skadden ruled them all.

On the litigation side, though, the new year has brought new headaches for Skadden. Earlier this month, a high-profile partner at the firm, along with another partner and an associate, got hit with a big benchslap. A federal judge issued an order to show cause, asking the Skadden lawyers to explain why they should not be sanctioned, and set “a status hearing in open court…. [at which the attorneys] are all directed to appear in person.” Ouch.

Skadden recently filed its response to the OSC. Let’s review the benchslap, then see what the Skadden lawyers had to say for themselves….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Benchslap of the Day: Skadden, Smacked, Eats Crow”

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, from Ross Guberman, a look at lawyers’ ethical breaches and their consequences.

Quick: List all the ways you can get into ethical hot water while writing a brief, and then list all the things judges can do to you in return.

Sometimes lawyers go too far, but do judges ever overreact?

I interviewed Judy Fischer, author of Pleasing the Court (affiliate link), on wayward lawyers and the angry judges who penalize them:

In your short and fascinating book, we meet all sorts of wayward attorneys who are in some way punished by courts for something they’ve done in a brief. One attorney called the members of an administrative board “monkeys” and compared their pronouncements to the “grunts and groans of an ape.” Another attorney neglected to mention an unfavorable case even though he himself was counsel in that case. Yet another referred to opposing counsel as “Nazis and redneck pepper-woods.” And various other attorneys drafted a proposed order with a first sentence that’s nearly four pages long, filed a complaint that the court called a “hideous sprawling mess,” cited a dissent as controlling authority, or copied another lawyer’s brief.

When you compare all these alleged ethical breaches with the penalties they provoked, what are a few of the behaviors that seem to irk judges most?

Read more at the ATL Career Center….

RIP, Turk.

* “I’m sorry Ms. Jackson, I am for real. Never meant to make your planet cry, I apologize a trillion times,” is likely what Barack Obama told Lisa Jackson when he found out she was stepping down as EPA administrator. [New York Times]

* Cook County, Illinois, is experiencing problems wherein the kookiest of judges get “electoral mulligans” every six years. Public humiliation and harsh ratings might be a great way to finally put an end to this practice. [Chicago Magazine]

* Another way to get revenge against the schools that screwed grads with their allegedly misleading employment stats: disciplinary action for ethical violations committed by those licensed to practice law. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, unless you’re accused of being a murderer birderer. Boalt Hall law students Justin Teixeira and Eric Cuellar have now been criminally charged for their alleged roles in the decapitation of an exotic bird. [Las Vegas Sun]

* Harvard Law is offering a free online copyright class, and anyone can enroll — even 13-year-olds. This may be your only chance to take a course at an Ivy League school, so hurry up and apply. [National Law Journal]

* George Zimmerman and his lawyer are being sued by a private detective for failure to pay $27K for security services, which included a detailed escape plan to get the murder defendant into a hidey-hole. [Boston Herald]

The year is quickly drawing to a close, but we have unfinished business to conduct here at Above the Law. Come on, people, we still have to crown our Lawyer of the Year for 2012.

Thank you to everyone who responded to our call for nominations, in the comments or via email. We’ve narrowed down the nominees to a field of nine (although you’ll see only eight options in the poll because one is a joint nomination). As in past years, the contenders run the gamut from distinguished to despicable.

And the nominees are….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Above the Law’s 2012 Lawyer of the Year Competition: The Finalists!”

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Bull and S***. If you’re not slaving away trying to get last minute billing hours, you’re slaving away trying to support a crazed population of folks trying to meet year-end sales numbers. It has been a difficult year, at best, for business. Heck, even Apple was downgraded to neutral yesterday. So, here comes the push.

The push is to close every deal possible, no matter the amount, no matter the risk, by 11:59 p.m. on December 31. But our job is to stanch the flow of craziness, is it not? Stay with me here — I am not allowed to collect commission due to a conflict of interest, yet every dollar that boosts our revenue, and thus our numbers for Q4, goes toward the bonus pool from which I directly benefit. If our end of year numbers are strong enough, the analysts punch our ticket into the new year and my options’ value rises. I may be dense (just ask my wife), but I fail to understand the difference from a commission-based return, and a bonus- or option-based return. The end result is the same, is it not? A benefit is conferred upon me based in part on my participation in the process of my sales-side corporation. But I am expected to “push” back.

I cannot, for real reasons, as well as flippancy, express some of the nuttiness that goes on at this time of year. Risks are taken akin to jumping from the high dive toward a half-empty deep end in the hopes that the water will be there in time. And it always ends happily with a splash. But, the troubling aspect to me is this incongruent fallacy of ethics. I am ethically bound to zealously represent my corporation, and at the same time, I am representing people whose very careers are at stake. I am well aware of the order of precedence there, but practically speaking, that line becomes blurred at this time of year, and frankly, I find it to be unsettling to be forced to live a legal fiction….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “House Rules: Conflicted Out”

* “To do nothing in the face of pending disaster is to be complicit. It’s time to act. It’s time to vote.” What a convenient time to discover that the Department of Justice tabled new gun control proposals in favor of an upcoming election campaign. [New York Times]

* Rumor has it that the president will nominate Senator John Kerry to be secretary of state for his second term. Upon hearing the news, Hillary Clinton updated her Tumblr page before she caught a case of the vapors, fainted, and got herself all concussed. [CNN]

* “If you don’t know, then you have to plan for the worst.” Everyone’s pissed off about the possibility of being pushed off the fiscal cliff, but on the bright side, it’s creating a mountain of billables. [National Law Journal]

* Remember the judge who resigned after he accidentally showed a colleague a picture of the “judicial penis”? He was removed from office by a judicial ethics panel. How very effective. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer]

* And for the talent portion of the competition, Alicia Guastaferro, the pageant princess who was picked up for prostitution after getting caught with an attorney, will have her hooking charges dropped. [Huffington Post]

Page 21 of 411...171819202122232425...41