Sunday, April 15, 2012

An Interesting Lawyer Ethics Discussion

Fighting massive injury & because I had to use it or lose it, I braved the subway & the NYC streets of Union Square to get to a special screening of a documentary called "Unraveled" on Friday (for those who didn't read my last post, I've been laid up with a sprained ankle & was traveling on crutches). This was for free attorney CLE credit for Ethics, the category that is usually harder to get for free (even if you're an experienced lawyer). I've noticed most of those programs cost money.

I & my lucky teammates, however got in for free b/c that was the prize for the '90s Trivia Contest we participated in for a Young Lawyer's event. Personally, I felt extremely gratified at winning that thing since for me it was showing that you should be nice to me & kicking some lawyer butt (plus taking down that whole "BigLaw lawyers are God & the rest of you are shit" ethic). Also met some female attorneys who weren't half bad & left thanking my lucky stars that I don't have to deal with the dating scene as a lawyer. From what I hear, it's a messy business & I'd probably have male attorneys at these associations bothering me on a regular basis.

If that sounds arrogant or snotty, let's consider this from an objective viewpoint & how much hassle I endure regularly simply for looking as I do. Probably not far off after you look at it from that angle. I mean, who else got hit on by a lawyer working at a firm that had a table at a career fair? I'm not even sure my wearing glasses in public would change that, though I think I look horrid in them. One of these days, I'll have to show my industry peeps how I look in them so they can tell me honestly if I'm being dramatic or if I'm right.

Anyhow, it was a total endurance test to get there though I came prepared (put my hair up, didn't wear anything too warm, didn't take my purse). As usual, the theater staff was much more friendly & accommodating than the lawyers I was at the event with. I was directed to the handicap accessible areas to get to the theater I had to go to & in that time, hadn't seen a chair except for one near an employee area. I sat down & no one bothered me. If someone had, I'd have asked where I could sit until I could go into my theater for my screening.

So, I saw the documentary. I'm not going to give you a synopsis or a history since you can Google that yourself. Plus, I don't feel particularly motivated to promote a film by a director that didn't bother to have the good sense to speak to the woman on crutches & make her feel welcome. I noted that he's apparently a filmmaker/BigLaw guy but apparently he's more "lawyer first, creative second" as opposed to someone like me who cares more about the creative side. I can't really tell what the artistic intent was for the documentary; just seemed like a colder transaction to me in all of the discussion (we also got a Q&A). Personally, I thought maybe the filmmaker was trying to humanize this guy. I saw that when you saw this lawyer hugging his dog goodbye & talking about how that dog who he'd had for 7 years had been his only friend.

Good motivator not to commit crime, right (or at least any carrying long prison terms)? See a picture of your dog or cat & think about how upset you'd be having to leave your pets.

The Q&A afterwards was very interesting, though. I didn't see much compassion or sympathy with the director or really anyone else. A few notable details you may like:

* The head of the ethics department at this bar association talked about the lawyer's motivation to start his crime (he had a high profile, wealthy client who'd caused him to get sanctioned & fined as a result of representing that client & did not even so much as apologize, much less help pay some of these fines). The ethics person said that attorneys commonly get pissed off at clients who don't appreciate them & the like but never offered the solution I used for my situations: cut that client loose.

I personally have no tolerance for disrespect or such behavior. If it were me, I'd kick your ass metaphorically & immediately not represent you if you undermine my authority or disrespect me. My representation, just as my friendship or good favor, is a privilege, not a right. If you're in a legal case where the judge has to approve of your terminating representation, that's one thing but I'd go to the judge & say "Look, this person is not listening to me, undermines my authority, (whatever the beef is) & I don't feel I can provide effective advocacy to him/her/it. I want out ASAP." & point to the ethics rule saying as much. At least with a firm, you could assign a different attorney if there's a personality clash.

My bad experiences in representing folks have made me far less tolerant of BS & more likely not to stand for it. Hey, if you don't respect yourself no one else is going to. I have a standard of basic human decency & if you want to be a prick to ME or not pay me, you can handle your legal matters by your lonesome or find a doormat who'll stand for it. My charity will be done at Monday Night Law & for friends/family/trusted sources, not exploitative jerkwads with an entitlement complex. Even then, my charity has a limit.

One time, I was called a bulldog. Mistreat them & they WILL turn on you.

* Another point made in this discussion was that the bar association had been trying to show attorneys that the key to success was not money or prestige.

Ha! Can we say "mixed messages?" Hell, I think that statement was totally ironic along with absolutely ludicrous (though I'm sure the speaker would tell you he didn't mean it that way). Ask these same people how much outreach they give to attorneys not working in the big law firms or how much denigration you'll hear them make about attorneys going to certain lower ranked schools. I've heard this myself as a member of the Entertainment Committee at City Bar.

Let's also examine that incident I heard about at Monday Night Law with the non-profit organization demanding volunteers to be from big law firms vs. solos or in-house lawyers.

How much support & validity do these same lawyers give to folks like me who are running businesses & not making a six figure paycheck?

What snobbery do you see regularly from this corner?

How much catering do these people do for BigLaw & figures in that arena on a regular basis?

I see quite a bit of this & that makes it more than understandable why many attorneys who are creatives first wouldn't be caught dead at bar association events. You think anyone would bother recognizing ME or giving ME respect for things I'm doing? No, I bet I could end up a public figure & these assholes still wouldn't bother reaching out to me for things or respecting my authority in my sphere. That's why my basic attitude is "Fuck them. I'll stick to my creative folks who DO respect me & don't make me feel I should grovel to them b/c I don't have some T1 school or big law firm name in my resume."

I could write a tome on how these law firm attorneys alienate people like me. Now there are some individuals who get it & if they read this, would likely see my point here (the president of NYCLA is one of them). Those aren't the ones who poo poo my career or act like I'm not worthy of breathing the same air as them b/c I don't work in BigLaw.

How about we get over this 7th grade mentality of "I'm better than you b/c I was on law review & work in a big law firm?" How about representation & chances for leadership from people away from BigLaw & the Ivy League? When I see a bar association doing that, then you may start making those statements. I've yet to see this, though I will give this one credit for installing its current president (who did recently get a huge promotion at his big law firm & I told him maybe it would make me less cynical about BigLaw in general since he got recognition). However, it's going to be a very long & hard climb to get me to change my opinion of the legal culture & legal establishment as a whole. In fact, I definitely think this attempt to change my mind could very well be a lost cause.

* Someone who went to high school with the documentary's subject speaks up about how he'd applied early admission to 2 schools in contravention of early admission rules & got into both, angering his classmates.

Okay, that didn't really piss me off since A) the early admission policies I know of tend to be rather draconian & leave no time to apply elsewhere if your early admission place rejects you & B) why did this guy get admitted as a lawyer if he'd have to disclose everything & presumably disclosed or lied about it? Good old boys network politics rearing its ugly head? Separate rules for the Ivy League graduates? Laxer standards for admission in the '70s? Makes you wonder.

Not that I condone doing this but I can understand why someone might do it (it's a reason I don't put myself in situations where I'd be tempted to do the same thing). Guess that sums up my view of the documentary: I wouldn't personally do it & I don't really condone it (seems like way too much work & too sleazy for me) but I understand motivation/the "why" aspect. I also noticed the room taking a very judgey tone, which I found interesting. Yes, theft is theft but are we to see this particular crime as a grey area? How far would people go? This guy at least seemed to have some remorse, which is more than you see in many people.

I think if the legal profession really wanted to avoid stuff like this in the future, it would re-examine its culture, its values & who gets rewarded or punished in employment decisions, bar associations, assigning credibility, etc. Perhaps this guy should have gotten an Oscar for that snow job since that would require some acting skills, don't you think?

Oh, and another lesson. If someone shows up to your film in crutches, try being decent to them. Don't shove in front of their space, okay? I can still be hell on crutches, trust me on this. pisses me off after working my ass off to get someplace when someone doesn't seem all that fazed by my effort in showing up. Little does this guy know about me...and I definitely don't help those who abuse my trust or screw over me or my friends. I'm not promoting another activity at this bar association b/c of mistreatment toward my friend. I noticed that they extended their deadline for entries & I thought "Well, shouldn't have lied to my friend about her film."

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