Monday, August 15, 2011

The Online Ethics Slide. When Does It Hit The Ground?

This Saturday will mark 3 years since I signed on to twitter for the first time.

I quickly signed off soon thereafter.

It wasn't because I didn't like it, or I was getting spammed. It was because I didn't understand it. What was the purpose of this site? Sending 140 character messages to people? Was anyone reading it? Who was on this site sending messages to me and others?

Then I had dinner with someone who said "hey, why did you stop using twitter?"

Answer: "I didn't get it."

Response: "just go on there and talk to people."

So I did.

Now, 3 years later, I've talked to a bunch of people, even met some of them in person, and yes, I've even established some pretty nice relationships.

Twitter has also brought to light the immense amount of scum in the legal profession that live by the phrase "on the internet, no one knows you're a dog."

In just 3 short years, I've discovered the following, and all on twitter:

[1] A disbarred lawyer parading as a blog salesman, while saying he went in to blog sales because he loved it so much, not because he was disbarred.

[2] This same blog salesman signing on as a "professor" to an on-line "university" for lawyers to "learn" about solo practice 3 months after his disbarment, and then terminated after the head of the "university" was advised of his disbarment. The head of the "university" claimed no knowledge, although it was discovered with a quick Google search.

[3] A laid off lawyer (laid off after less than a year) claiming to be an "experienced corporate lawyer" and having the ability to teach BigLaw how to bring in business through social media.

[4] This same laid off lawyer claiming to have been part of a $450 million dollar deal, who then later had to confess his role was "document review."

[5] A lawyer claiming to be a "practicing attorney" due to an of-counsel relationship where there is no evidence of any legal work being done, and anger and hysterics anytime someone inquires about the practice.

[6] A lawyer pleading guilty to felony real estate fraud and still parading as a partner in a law firm. When confronted, this lawyer angrily said that she was innocent and was not going to leave her law partner to have to be the sole rainmaker. She's since changed her bio several times, eventually settling on "Real Estate Law," as if it's an interest, and not her profession.

[7] A lawyer claiming she doesn't practice because she has chosen not to, when the record of her state bar shows her suspended.

[8] A lawyer posting a picture of a tall, glass, office building on his website, when the attorney's presence in that building is simply that he has paid a time share type company to accept his mail there.

[9] A lawyer raging against the use of ethics "against" young lawyers, to then only have to post her recent correspondence from the Bar, initiated by a complaint concerning the possible unauthorized practice of law.

And this is what I have found, although there's probably more that I can't remember off the top of my head.

It's like exterminators tell you - when you see a roach, it means there's many others somewhere nearby.

So where does it stop? When do we stop drawing lines between young lawyer and old lawyers and start thinking of this vast hundreds of thousands of lawyers as a profession?

Have we stopped being concerned with the profession? I think so. I think it's every lawyer for him/herself. It's all about paying the bills, paying the student loans, paying for the house you can't afford, paying for the marketer to put you on the first page of everything that matters in life.

When did the iPad become more important than the networking lunch? When did your social media presence become more important than who you truly are? When will we stop getting excited about every new website (and charging lawyers to teach them how to use it) and start getting excited when a lawyer does something good for a client?

When did the lying, the marketing fake biographies, skirting ethics rules to push your way to the front of the line that used to be called hard work, all become acceptable?

When do we stop congratulating those who see the practice of law as a readily available outlet at a coffee shop and a few documents to sell, or those who failed as lawyers advising other lawyers on rainmaking through social media, and start wanting to learn from those who take on the government, or helped a person become a citizen, or prevented a developer from tearing down history, or just did something that didn't involve an avatar and a keyboard?

There's a phrase I learned in college from a roommate. He said "while we concentrate on the mice, the elephant walks out of the room." Maybe you've heard that, or a variation of that.

What it means, to me, is that we spend so much time on irrelevance, that we don't even notice that the relevant is right there, and leaving.

I've been thinking about this post for a while now, so it's interesting that just this morning Scott Greenfield somewhat expressed the same thing, as he did recently in one of the best posts I've read on his blog: "What if Ethics Came First"

Let's rid ourselves of those who are receiving a pass on the internet. You, yes, you, start calling them out as well.

Let's become a profession again. Let's at least try. Stop pretending that the scum populating the internet don't matter to you. They do. There's nothing to be scared of, these people are small, weak, and don't deserve to be a part of a "profession" that requires an oath.

I can see the bottom, it's not too far away.

Non-anonymous comments welcome. Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.Share/Save/Bookmark


Bethani R. said...

Wow. Honestly I was finding myself getting pulled into the internet frenzy, and it took this blog to pour ice water on my face. It seems mostly lawyers respond to your blogs (from the few I've read) and I hope you don't mind me commenting since I'm a pre-paralegal.

Thank you for the thought provoking blogs about ethics. They have helped me gain a lot of perspective about what a lawyer should do, and since paralegals work for them, I want an ethical boss. And on the other hand, I want to be an ethical paralegal.

Gavin Curtis said...

I have read your blog for some time. This one prompted me to post. I'm a middle-aged law student. I read all the websites telling me I could be a whiz bang solo right out of school. I found it appealing because I went to law school partially because I wanted to work for myself. It's truly scary all the stuff that's going on ethically with the profession. Do you think we have more charlatans than ever before because of the internet, or do you think the internet makes the already-existing charlatans more visible? On a personal note, I am an excellent student in the top 20 percent of my class with legal experience on the side. But I am still scared of the dismal job market. Do you think there is an ethical way to go solo right after school? Small cases? Finding a mentor?