Wednesday, February 24, 2010

American Express Joins The Chorus Against (Bad) Lawyers

I've always said that my favorite time to hear a lawyer joke is at 3 a.m. when a client calls. I joke that I interrupt the client's tale of woe and say "wait, first, tell me a good lawyer joke."

This blog is also evident that I am happy to criticize lawyers and the profession, as I think it creates a discussion of where we are, and where we're going.

And now, American Express has joined the discussion with an article entitled 16 things your lawyer won't tell you.

I assume American Express will follow this article up with 16 things your doctor wont tell you, followed by 16 things your accountant wont tell you, followed by a slew of articles regarding the 16 things other types of their cardmembers wont tell you.

The article is actually a compilation of what others have said, and there's nothing in it that doesn't have some truth to it.

The article begins:

While most lawyers are honest professionals, the legal industry does have its share of rotten apples. From overbilling to downright incompetence, our recent interviews with legal experts revealed 16 dirty secrets bad attorneys don’t want you to know.

That's followed by:

1. I use forms but charge you as if I did it from scratch.

2. I hand off work to peons but charge you a lawyer’s rate.

3. My Ivy League education doesn’t make me a better lawyer.

4. I hope you don’t look too closely at the expense report.

5. You don’t really need me.

Number 8 is one of my favorites

8. I don’t know much about the law.

The legal system is so complicated that most attorneys are only experts within a very specific niche. Just as you wouldn’t ask a podiatrist to perform open heart surgery, don’t expect your personal injury lawyer to give you sound trademark advice. Your best bet is to find out how long the attorney has practiced in the specific area in which you need help, and what percentage of his practice is in that area, suggested Bradley R. Gammell, Esq., of Gammell & Associates.

I also like number 9, but wonder why a referral fee is referred to in the more criminal term of "kickback." I don't take or pay referral fees, but there's nothing remotely wrong with doing so.

9. I don’t refer you to the best lawyers.

Because most attorneys are only experts in specialized niches, they often have to refer clients to other attorneys who are more qualified in the client’s area of need. In many jurisdictions lawyers are allowed to pay each other referral fees as long as the fee is properly disclosed to the client. While technically legal, this practice creates a bad incentive for lawyers to focus more on the size of the kickback than on the welfare of their clients.


10. Your bill is only a guesstimate.

11. I don’t have to tell you how I screwed up in the past.

12. I put on a tough act but that won’t actually help your case.

It ends with a call to the masses:

Do you trust your attorney? Please share your thoughts and legal horror stories in the comments.

I don't know how many American Express cardmembers are lawyers, and although I find it ballsy that a conservative company like American Express truly treats their open forum as such, I wonder whether anyone would take the time to produce follow-up articles on other professionals.

I bet not.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Another Young Lawyer Stakes His Claim, And It's A Big One

Yesterday I posted below about a 28 year old recently minted lawyer who decided to start practicing law instead of sitting in mommy and daddy's living room, or Starbucks, and whining about the lack of BigLaw jobs that all new lawyers used to be entitled to.

Today we hear that those new red-light cameras, that cities are putting up at a rapid clip, are illegal - at least in Aventura, Florida. Something about not being able to confront your accuser, or some-thin...

This was a big story. These red-light cameras are boondoggles for broke cities looking to fill their coffers with ridiculous fines. Studies show that red-light cameras actually cause more accidents, as people see them at the last minute and slam on their brakes - but, who cares when you're making money hand over fist.

Here's the real story: Bret Lusskin was the lawyer. You know - Brett Lusskin, admitted to the Bar in 2006. The same Brett Lusskin that opened up his own traffic ticket defense office in Hallandale, Florida out of law school?

On the other side, representing the City of Aventura, a "500 lawyer law firm" as the television station put it last night when they were interviewing Brett.

David versus Goliath.

The city will most certainly appeal, and maybe win.

But for today, Brett is the victor, and his victory may affect red light cameras across the country.

Regardless of the final outcome, I trust Brett is in a much better position today than those of you reading this from a couch, or a Starbucks, lamenting why no one thinks you're entitled to a career.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.


Monday, February 22, 2010

A Law School Graduate Is Forced, To Become A Lawyer

This story is so damn long, but I loved every minute of it. It's the story of a 28-year old law school graduate whose dreams of an irrelevant desk job in Corporate America were shattered, and instead, he actually found a way to get a client, and be a real lawyer.

I can't wait to read it again, and again.

H/T: Walter Olson

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Leaving Your Law Firm

It's usually the lawyer who starts bringing in business that thinks about leaving their law firm. But now we're in a time when leaving may not be so voluntary.

I learn about lawyers leaving law firms in two ways - I'm told by the lawyer, or I read about it in the paper. A quick blurb on page 3 of the business section is always preferable to a front page story, which usually means there's a lawsuit.

Florida, where I practice, has a specific rule. It's long, detailed, and basically says this:

[1] Clients have the right to counsel of their choice, regardless of what lawyers and law firms say.

[2] Absent a specific agreement otherwise, a lawyer who is leaving a law firm shall not unilaterally contact those clients of the law firm for purposes of notifying them about the anticipated departure or to solicit representation of the clients unless the lawyer has approached an authorized representative of the law firm and attempted to negotiate a joint communication to the clients concerning the lawyer leaving the law firm and bona fide negotiations have been unsuccessful.

[3] Dissolution of Law Firm. Absent a specific agreement otherwise, a lawyer involved in the dissolution of a law firm shall not unilaterally contact clients of the law firm unless, after bona fide negotiations, authorized members of the law firm have been unable to agree on a method to provide notice to clients.

[4] When a joint response has not been successfully negotiated, unilateral contact by individual members or the law firm shall give notice to clients that the lawyer is leaving the law firm and provide options to the clients to choose to remain a client of the law firm, to choose representation by the departing lawyer, or to choose representation by other lawyers or law firms.

[5] When a law firm is being dissolved and no procedure for contacting clients has been agreed upon, unilateral contact by members of the law firm shall give notice to clients that the firm is being dissolved and provide options to the clients to choose representation by any member of the dissolving law firm, or representation by other lawyers or law firms.

[6] Notice to the client required under this rule shall provide information concerning potential liability for fees for legal services previously rendered, costs expended, and how any deposits for fees or costs will be handled. In addition, if appropriate, notice shall be given that reasonable charges may be imposed to provide.

There's nothing worse than leaving a law firm because the "big fee" came in, and then having to spend that big fee on lawyers.

Before you jump ship, know whether your jurisdiction has a specific rule, and follow it. If agreements can't be reached, legal action may be unavoidable, but I can guarantee you a long term of worthless litigation if you take no action to try and resolve your departure amicably.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Beginning Year 7 With Type II Diabetes

President's Day, 6 years ago, day before jury selection in a carjacking case. It had been a few days since I took the blood test. The blood test that resulted from my diabetic mother-in-law hearing that I had lost a tremendous amount of weight, quickly, was drinking sugary sodas like there was no tomorrow, and urinating constantly. She had a hunch.

While enjoying the afternoon, a voicemail came in. "Brian, this is Doctor Pefkaros (R.I.P), I need to speak to you immediately, you do have diabetes."

First thought: "I am going to die."

I called the doctor back. His first question: "are you ok?" Not was I ok with the news, but was I feeling ok? He asked because my blood sugar was 330. To you non-diabetics, it should be around 100, 140 after eating.

I felt fine. Tired actually. But I thought that was due to working. I didn't realize the sugar was making me lethargic.

I told the doctor I would be in after my trial. "NO, you'll be here tomorrow."

"I'm starting a trial tomorrow."

"No, your not."

Luckilly I knew the judge pretty well, so I called him at home and broke the news. I don't even know if he knows to this day that after my wife, he was the first to know.

After learning from the doctor that in fact I was not going to die, that I was going to live, he gave me a prescription. In 30 days my blood sugar was averaging 103.

I went to a class to learn about food, and bought every book I could find about the disease. I began an exercise regiment, diet regiment, and pill regiment. After a few years, that wasn't enough, so I cried as the doctor told me it was time for insulin.

Today, I thank God for insulin. Every day I encounter my biggest fear, a needle. I also think back to the time when there was no insulin, and people died from diabetes.

I've had my ups and downs over the past 6 years. Diabetes is a daily, hourly battle for which there is no cure. The frustrations with the disease are never ending.

It is also the best thing that's ever happened to me. I know more about food than I ever thought I would. I am healthier than ever. Diabetes prevents me from doing nothing except eating bad food (which I occasionally do), and ignoring my overall health.

I will have diabetes for the rest of my life. I was not born with it, like those that grew up with it as children, and wear insulin pumps full time (Type I), and I always keep that in perspective. I have the utmost respect for children with diabetes, for so many reasons.

The onset of Type II diabetes in the world is overwhelming. I attribute it to bad eating habits, processed food, and lack of exercise. People may differ, but that's my opinion.

The internet has made things so much easier for diabetics. Forums like, and outstanding advocates and inspirational examples like Kerri Sparling are important parts of the diabetic world.

If you think you may be diabetic, please, get a blood test, take action, make it a priority. You can live a full life with diabetes, as long as you are educated about the disease, and pay attention to your body's signals.

On to year 7.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. Please visit


Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Difference Between A Referral, And "3 Names"

It began in 1973. A young associate in a big law firm received a call that created a staple of the legal profession. While researching an arcane area of law that had already cost the client 6 hours of worthless fees, he received a call from an old friend living in another state. He needed a referral to a lawyer. A real lawyer, to do real work. The young associate had never received such a call. Until then, he had understood all legal work available to mankind was done “within the firm.” But this was a criminal case, and the firm didn’t “do that type of work.”

He immediately ran down the hall to the senior partner, relayed the odd nature of the call, and a firm-wide meeting was called. There, the “3 names” referral was born.

The goal was not to get the client in the hands of the “best” lawyer, or the lawyer that someone within the firm respected and liked, it was to keep the firm from any liability for the referral.

Instead of one name, they would give 3. That way, the client could choose, and would never have a reason to blame the firm if the representation was not satisfactory. There would be no “referral” per se, no confidence placed in any one lawyer, just a list of names.

Why tell the client the best Italian restaurant in town, when you can give them a list of 3? That way if they don’t like the one they choose, it’s not the lawyer’s fault.

In football, we call that “punting.” You can’t get the ball where you need it to go, so you just give it to the other team and see what they can do with it.

The story above is completely untrue. I made it up. Although I think some of it is true. I’ve always believed that big firm lawyers are taught this method of referrals. It’s cheapened our profession. It’s meant to create cheapness, it’s meant to protect the referring lawyer from any perceived liability (even if that liability is merely disappointment) for the wrong referral.

Working from the 3 lawyer referral method also creates the “who’s cheaper” philosophy. It encourages those that see lawyers as cars, to shop. A car is a car. Doesn’t matter where you buy it, as long as you get the best price. Some people, a lot of people, think lawyers are lawyers. Anyone with a Bar license can do the work, so let’s just find the cheapest one.

I will never give a list of 3, and I tell lawyers who refer me cases, not to put me on a list of 3. I’m not playing the Bahamian Flea Market game, and I don’t really care what “the other lawyer” you saw is quoting you. I refer one lawyer. One good lawyer. Someone I know, and someone in whose abilities I'm confident

If you’re referring 3 lawyers, you’re referring no one. You’re punting.

This all leads me to yesterday. I was asked for a referral for a criminal lawyer in another state. I know one criminal lawyer in that state, and I’ve referred that lawyer cases and been happy with the representation. I made the referral, and got back: “thanks, know any others?”

Why do I need to know others? You were asking for a referral, I gave you one. Is the client looking for a price, or a great lawyer?”

Answer: “Both.”

Of course.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. Read his free ebook: I Got A Bar Complaint.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My New Free E-Book: I Got A Bar Complaint

I Gotta Bar Complaint

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. Please visit


Saturday, February 6, 2010

The State Of Lawyer Defense

Sitting here at the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers confererence in Orlando, and wanted to summarize my thoughts on current issues both in Florida and around the country.

[1] The internet is moving too fast for state bar associations.

[2] The Florida ethics opinion on judges friending lawyers on Facebook is the laughing stock of the country.

[3] Lawyers believe that rule 8.4 should cover all conduct on the internet.

[4] Lawyers considering multi-jurisdictional practice are hindered by conflicting advertising regulations.

[5] Young lawyers and law students believe that Facebook and twitter and other social media sites (LinkedIn) are nothing more than a continuation of face to face conversation and should not be regulated at all.

[6] Lawyers are overwhelmed with regulations regarding internet presence and wonder "when are we not lawyers?"

[7] There is a great disparity in opinion on how much each partner in a law firm should be responsible for the other partner's conduct. (i.e. trust account supervision)

[8] The school of thought that advertising and solicitation rules are designed around the notion that potential clients are "stupid" and "able to be tricked" is widespread.

[9] There is also a school of thought amongst the "senior" lawyers that advertising and solicitation rules are meant to keep young lawyers from "taking away business." (I don't agree).

[10] Lawyers leaving law firms with a substantial book of business need to retain counsel the minute they start considering leaving the firm.

I may have a follow up. Back to the seminar.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. Please visit


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Who You Gonna Call - Ghostbloggers?

It's amazing to me that there is even a debate as to whether "ghostblogging," the art and science of paying for blog content written by someone else and pretending as if it's your own, is ethical.

It's not. End of debate.

But not these days. With the flood of lawyers searching on Google for "how to make money as a lawyer," and the recent "how to make a lot of money as a lawyer," the notion of "faking it" on your blog, is acceptable to many. Eh, who will find out anyway?

The argument that lawyers want to "educate the public" about their practice, and "don't' have time to blog, is a total bunch of crap. If a lawyer wants to educate the public about their practice, that's the purpose of a website. If a lawyer doesn't have time to blog, the best way to resolve that, is not to blog. A blog is a collection of thoughts tied into news. Not to today's lawyers it isn't. To today's money hungry shill parading as a "lawyer," a blog is a way to get good placement on Google, and therefore not having time to write just means paying someone else to write.

Ghostblogging is fraud. Fraud is only accomplished when someone in the loop isn't aware that it's a fraud. This is why the ghostblogging frauds want people like me and others, and others, to shut up about it. This is why there is a defense being mounted for these fraudsters that people calling them out are just being mean. See fraudsters rely not only on the fact that people won't realize it's fraud, they also rely on the hope that no one will call a spade a spade. These people want to lie in private. They want to be left alone.

I understand. Blogging is time consuming, and who wants to take the time to write their thoughts when they can buy a blog. Blogging is not for expression of thought, it's for profit. He'll, even the king of blogging for profit glosses over why he really left the practice of law. Honesty is an afterthought. Who cares, right? It's all in the name of getting clients, and in a world of lawyers who thought they were entitled to a BigLaw job but are now just practicing out of their living rooms and trunks, getting clients trumps ethics.

The new blogger community just wants to pretend, and they'd like you to call them and hire them. So call them, hire them. Maybe part of their practice isn't based on fraud, even if the reason you are in their office is because the lie worked. Even if you'll never ask the lawyer if they actually wrote the content on their blog, because the fee is reasonable, and it's all about hearing what you want to hear, even if it's all a lie.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. Please visit