Archive

Posts Tagged ‘legal ethics’

R E S P E C T

April 10, 2012 1 comment

I have been telling the stories of my early days in the legal profession. On the whole they were fun. It all felt quite miraculous—I had gone from a lowly sergeant in the USAF—one who was often resented as I was the only women or in an early infiltration of women into a previously make career—electronics. Then, little more than 2 years after I drove from Biloxi to Los Angeles I was a lawyer! No one could say I had accomplished nothing or was not smart. I had proved I was—and now I could do amazing things.(No one realizes how many things you could do on your word alone back then.) Being an attorney was indeed an amazing source of power. But it was still fun then. There was no public and ugly sniping between counsel, and no one seemed to hate us… yet.

There was no attorney advertizing back then. For decades—nay centuries—it had been taboo. (Yes, I know that’s hard to believe, but it is true.) “The organized bar traditionally took the position that a lawyer was not permitted to actively publicize his services. In effect, it was presumed that every lawyer had an established clientele, or that a lawyer’s reputation for good work would inevitably lead others to seek out the lawyer’s services. Under this approach, direct publicity for lawyers was strictly controlled.[1] Morgan, Thomas D. (2005) Legal Ethics, p. 145. Thomson-BarBri. ISBN 0-314-15633-X.”

Even now, we are not permitted to “solicit”—I know I know—hard to believe but again… true.   “A solicitation shall not be made by or on behalf of a member or law firm to a prospective client with whom the member or law firm has no family or prior professional relationship, unless the solicitation is protected from abridgment by the Constitution of the United States or by the Constitution of the State of California. A solicitation to a former or present client in the discharge of a member’s or law firm’s professional duties is not prohibited.  (http://avvoblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/ca-attorney-advertising-rules.pdf)

Bates was decided in 1977 but the trend to change the culture did not catch on right away, and Larry Parker was not up and running in 1983. He was admitted to the Bar in 1973 but the “My attorney got me…’’ ads were not everywhere. The infamous “Larry parker got me 2.1 million” ad aired in 1986 so I guess the die was cast—but it was not until the OJ Simpson trial (in my unscientific opinion) that things got REALLY bad.

What the public does not know is that of Larry got the guy in the ad 2.1 million he’d have had to have been a paraplegic. The ad was so misleading (an attorney may not  “(3) Omit to state any fact necessary to make the statements made, in the light of circumstances under which they are made, not misleading to the public…”  that the California legislature passed what I call the “anti Larry Parker” law. Prest-0 change-o–the ad changed to “Larry Parker got me… You know the story.” Thus Larry avoided actually saying anything misleading–while equally clearly doing JUST what he did with the original ad. Making it sound like anyone could get rich quick. People still believe this. It has never been true.

As an attorney it disgusted me. It still does.

So why am I bitching about this today? Because I busted my butt to help the son of a friend and got… well no respect. No appreciation. Almost no money—and then asked to AGAIN jump in and help the lousy businessman/son… only to be told I had “not done anything.”

No one would EVER think that to be asked for help and then be unable to deliver it (because necessary documents were never provided) would upset the attorney. We all know attorneys are—let’s list:

  • sharks
  • bottom feeding
  • worthy of being buried under the sea
  • rich
  • heartless
  • NOT worthy of braking for…

WANTING to be useful, helpful or able to give an accurate answer? Ha.

Well GUESS WHAT? THAT (being unable to give a good answer) made me crazier than the UTTER lack of appreciation. It STILL bothers me that I cant be sure this kid had any cause of action because he could not be bothered to fax me the contract. He thinks he can find an attorney to do this “on contingency.” This will so not happen. But hey–the ads make it sound easy, right?

No, there is no respect. Thank you Larry Parker. And thank you Robert Shapiro, Legalzoom and the entire misleading advertising industry.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Advertisements

Priest vs. Bus Driver… Ethics and Power

April 1, 2012 3 comments

OK so when I left off with my saga–and my loyal followers of small numbers– I had just changed several lives by sorting out a no insurance personal injury case in way that was–dare I say it? Healing.

I have a vivid memory of another case where I did something very creative—and it had a less happy ending. No healing… a settlement that left me feeling I had done something bad. Dishonest. But, perhaps… required ethically. (You can be the judge.)

The case was another of the dog cases only this quirky trio would have taken. We had a Workers Comp case of an LA County bus driver, and they drag on forever. At some point during this case (which I was not handling) the driver (also Hispanic but I have forgotten his name) came to and said he was being sued. The girls—the partners—took the case with a lien on his Worker’s Comp settlement. Then they gave it to me.

It was the case of  the Priest vs. the Bus driver. Priest has sued, alleging a loan made and not repaid—involving the purchase of a house, or some land. Something like $20,000, which was a year’s salary back then.

Our guy admits he borrowed the money. There is no note. I get the case before and answer has been filed—and I remember there is this little thing called the Statute of Frauds. Now the response to a pleading which is insufficient is a thing called a demurrer. It makes the plaintiff’s pleading stand or fall as it is. It gets almost always gets them a “do-over” if the demurrer is sustained (and ups their attorney’s fees.) I always through demurrers were a BAD idea—why educate your opponent if s/he is a dummy? But according to Bernie Witkin, then still alive and one of the leading authorities in California law,  the Statute of Frauds, if  not asserted in a demurrer, could be waived. And this was one risk I could not take—this was a land deal and there was no writing. That might be fatal to the priest’s case… So I demurred (instead of filing and Answer to the complaint. The matter was set for a hearing. I am a new attorney so hearings are a pretty big deal for me, still.) Drum roll, please! The day arrives.

I think opposing course had a broken leg—but that’s fuzzy. But what is clear as a bell is all parties appearing by telephone for the one and only time in my legal career. I remember it was really hard to know when the judge was about to talk, with no visual. And I remember we won. Given that there was nothing in writing, it was not clear the complaint could be amended to state a case. The other attorney, whom I never did meet, seemed a tad lame.

Meanwhile, I am thinking “what the heck is a priest doing with this kind of money?” I ask my client “does the Bishop know about this?” Well, my client brings this to the attention of the Bishop (at my suggestion) and I hear back that the Bishop has said that in no uncertain terms this case is NOT going to court. Oops!

Now. this is a very unusual circumstance. I have enormous power—I can dictate terms to this guy who had already looked like a TOTAL jerk in the demurrer… hemmed and hawed and clearly had NO clue. So (to the best of my recollection) I settle with him, verbally, on the amount my guy says he owes. Not a dime more. On my own—no consult with the boss. I am stern—Mr. Lost-the-demurrer asks “what about interest?” I say, “take it or leave it.” No matter what he asks, I just say “take it or leave it. I am a TOTAL bitch. He caves.

Then I tell Sandy about this great thing I did.  Except… she is not pleased! Rather, she sternly admonished me—“You didn’t get the best deal for your client.” No praise for my VERY CLEVER resolution… no praise for settling a case with not even an answer filed. I was chided! Scolded! Ashamed, and required to do it all over.

You see, I had these eedjits by the gonads. Ergo, I could take advantage of this and settle for LESS than my guy owed. So I did. I called Mr. Notsosmart back the next day, and I had to say: “You remember that deal we had yesterday? Well, it’s gone.” I do not recall what he said or what the amount finally was—I just remember how wrong it felt. How dishonorable.

Was I ethically obligated by the duty of zealous advocacy to take advantage of a situation that will never again happen to me—or, maybe ANYONE–and cut a “better” deal than my client asked for? God only knows. I don’t.

But that’s what I did. And that I will never ever forget.

Enhanced by Zemanta