Ethics Should Not Be Used as a Weapon Against Young Lawyers

Let me start off with a warning that as I write this column I am angry. I’ve decided enough is enough and am now willing to address this issue, and the attorneys who do what I am about to describe, head on.

‘Ethics’ is a Dirty Word

Professional ethics is supposed to be a code by which we lawyers operate to ensure that we are maintaining the highest level of integrity as we practice law. Unfortunately, many experienced attorneys have taken to using the word “ethics” and all of its connotations as a weapon against any attorney serving their clients in a way with which the criticizing attorney is unfamiliar or does not approve. Sadly, given that young and innovative lawyers are blazing a trail for new ways to both practice law and deliver their services, we tend to be the target for such ridicule. I have even seen some lawyers claim that young lawyers, especially solos, cannot possibly be ethical without the hand-holding (otherwise known as chiding) of more experienced attorneys.

Well, I beg to differ. Young lawyers are fully capable of being as ethical as their more experienced colleagues as they serve their clients. Yes, and that includes young solos. As lawyers, we are trained to research the law and apply it to real life scenarios. Why would young lawyers be incapable of looking up the ethics rules and decisions in their state and applying those rules in their practice? Why would young lawyers be against being ethical? Because we have an online presence? Because we, dare I say it, actually market our practices to potential clients? Because we have the nerve to start law practices after completing law school and passing our state bar? Or because we practice law in a non-traditional way?

I have been subject to such claims. I have been accused by ‘more experienced’ colleagues’ of being an unethical attorney simply because I practice law online or because I practice law in a state where I do not live or because I market my practice online. Apparently, many experienced attorneys cannot understand how I could possibly have a non-traditional law practice and still be ethical. Well, too bad! Too bad that you do not understand. Too bad that you are so rigid in your ideas of how law should be practiced that you criticize and attempt to ostracize any attorney trying something new instead of asking yourself, ‘what could I maybe learn from her?’ And too bad that you won’t pull a young lawyer aside and point out areas you think present an ethical hazard but instead choose to publicly discourage and belittle them. And too bad that you are quick to judge and react apparently before you have read the ethics rules and requirements in the states where I am barred. I have. And I have applied them to my practice. Thank you very much.

Old Dogs Need to Learn New Tricks

What further toasts my muffins about the so-called unimpeachable ethics of some highly critical, experienced attorneys is that they themselves could certainly take notes from younger attorneys about professional ethics.

Things that have been accepted as “ethical” for years are being questioned by young lawyers, including myself. For example, is it ethical to charge an hourly rate to clients when doing so puts the monetary interests of the lawyer at odds with the monetary interests of the client? Is it ethical to subtly bully clients into doing what the lawyer wants to do instead of what the clients wants to do (unless it would be truly detrimental to the client)? Is it ethical to charge the client for every thought the lawyer has about the client and/or their case? Is it ethical to cut a client off after taking substantial amounts of their money because they are unable to pay still more? Is it ethical to lead a client to believe they are hiring a partner at the firm and then have a young associate do all the work but not let the young associate appear in court when she knows the case better than the partner? Is it ethical to terrify young lawyers from going solo because its not what you would do?

My answers to these questions are no, not at all! Yet, I have seen this kind of behavior over and over again from experienced, so-called “ethical” attorneys who my family has hired, who I have worked for and during my clerkship. If that’s what ethical lawyering looks like, it’s time ethical lawyering was redefined.

To many young lawyers, being ethical is not something that is only associated with bar rules. It involves basic morality, something young lawyers are very interested in. It’s about being honest with clients in our advertising, creating environmentally responsible businesses, not chasing money but providing value, not being condescending to clients with our vast legal vocabulary but speaking to them in plain English. Young lawyers are also interested in giving back to their community by supporting local and international charities and taking on pro bono work. There are plenty of experienced lawyers who could benefit from incorporating some of this morality into their “ethical rules” and into their practices in a substantial way.

In conclusion, my point is this: Experienced attorneys stop trying to scare young lawyers half to death with your scary ethics anecdotes about lawyers who were disbarred or suspended due to unethical behavior. Most of the stories involve gross misconduct on many levels and they only serve to disproportionately scare young lawyers when the news tells a very different story about some of the most experienced lawyers landing in jail for fraud, thievery and every imaginable ethical and moral violation. Let’s see you talk about them. You don’t own the exclusive real estate on any ethical pedestals.

Instead, why not give tips on how to look up and apply ethics rules and/or make young lawyers aware of the top ethical pitfalls that lawyers face? And young lawyers, my message is do not be afraid. Do not let the word “ethics” prevent you from establishing a law practice, even one that is cutting edge. Instead, do your research and apply the rules to your practice. And when in doubt, call your state’s ethics hotline.

And one last thought: Young lawyers, we need to get involved in our state bar’s ethics committees and begin redefining ethics so that it actually protects the public while not unnecessarily restricting lawyers from innovative ways to practice or financially preventing them from ever launching a practice.

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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54 comments on “Ethics Should Not Be Used as a Weapon Against Young Lawyers

  • I started my practice as a freelance lawyer in the mid-90s, when I was just a few years out of law school. The practice was innovative then; even today, it’s still out of the ordinary. As a result, I made it my business to educate myself about the ethics rules relevant to my practice (concerning such topics as the duty of competent representation, fee splitting, conflicts and confidentiality). Through my blog (at http://legalresearchandwritingpro.com) and frequent CLE presentations, I now teach other lawyers how to ethically work with freelance lawyers and how to ethically run practices as freelance lawyers.

    • Lisa,

      Thanks for sharing your experiences! Its an excellent point that when you are practicing in an innovative way, you tend to be vigilant about the ethics rules related to your practice. I am sure that no other lawyer was more concerned about your practice complying with ethics than you were. :)

      Did you face a lot of resistance from lawyers unfamiliar with freelance lawyering in the beginning?

      • I haven’t personally faced the conduct you describe in your post, but I know others have.

        However, in June, the former chief Connecticut ethics regulator wrote an article for the Connecticut Law Tribune about outsourcing that was replete with inaccurate scaremongering. You can read my response to the article at http://is.gd/Ct7Fu5.

  • I find it interesting that the lawyers who question the ethics of the rest of us are the ones being disbarred for malpractice. Anyway, while I respect the ability of some senior attorneys, I do not take their word as the truth about the law. I research it and come to my own conclusions. I expect all lawyers to challenge the traditional thinking and think for themselves. I challenge all lawyers to stop focusing on the hourly rate and the billable hour and focus on the client and the law (or at least what it should be).

    An attorney once told me if it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, don’t do it. That was good advice then and it is good advice now.

  • Brava! Nicely stated, Rachel. Part of the reason I went our on my own was the unethical behavior I saw from “experienced” attorneys at Big Law. In my experience, young lawyers who have more recently taken the MPRE have a better handle on the Rules than most senior attorneys. Going solo gives many of us the opportunity to apply the Rules of Professional Responsibility without compromise.

  • Rachel,

    When it’s your law license on the line you will dot your i’s and cross your t’s on everything. As Suzanne said, when you work for (some) firms they’ve learned how to ‘skirt’ issues and feel secure in doing so as they think they have a handle on ‘what you can get away with…not necessarily what is ethical to do or not do.’ I, too, have always maintained you have to do your own research and make your own decisions even if you’ve gotten what you think is great advice. It’s your livelihood on the line…no one else’s.

    • That’s right, Susan. Which is why it annoys me that some lawyers feel the need to constantly state that a young solo is just a disbarment waiting to happen. As if the young solo does not care about protecting their law license more than the criticizing attorney. Its silly!

  • Rachel, I read your comments and I find that I agree with some and disagree with others. (I know, I am a lawyer and the fact that I agree and disagree is surprising how? :) To be honest, the first thing that came to my mind was that you need a thicker skin, especially if you intend to stay a solo or be involved in litigation. I did not see anywhere where it said that you were actually “reported” to the state bar for being unethical, just that some older lawyers were saying you were unethical. That is a major difference. Threatening to report someone and not doing so is also a violation of the rules. Either they are violating or they are not, there is no gray area. (Okay, maybe there is, but that gray area gets decided on by a tribunal if it gets that far.)

    However, I also believe that you are right when an older lawyer says something like that to a third party, especially should the older lawyer be trying to have the client hire them. That crosses a big line and moves from just being petty and/or offering what might actually be heartfelt, if wrong and misunderstood, advice.

    I think it is far safer to never accuse another lawyer of being unethical without actually knowing the facts. And, even then, it is far safer not to do it unless you are compelled to do so by your state’s “squeal rule,” which, if you are, make the complaint and be done with it. I have fallen into that situation once and only once and hope never to do so again. Even then, the other lawyer left me no choice whatsoever in whether I had to file a complaint or not, he was so blatant about it that to not file left me in the position of having the judge file against both of us. By the way, yes, the judge also filed a complaint, with, I found out later, a notation that if opposing counsel, me, did not also file a complaint he should be charged with violating RPC Rule 8.3(a) (http://www.mass.gov/obcbbo/rpc8.htm#Rule%208.3) as the violation merits such reporting. (Sometimes it is useful to know assistant bar counsels who will tell you stuff like this.) Fortunately, I had sent my complaint in the day before the judge did. When contacted by Bar Counsel’s office, I told them I stood by what I wrote and that there was nothing beyond that. They left me alone afterward.

    I think my biggest complaint about what you wrote is that you are using the word “Ethics” wrong. I do not think that you necessarily really mean “Ethics should not be used as a weapon,” what I think you mean is “Stop giving me advice that I do not want, especially wrong advice,” or, “Stop trying to intimidate me to make me just like you, I am better, smarter, and know what I want and how to get it; I am not an old fossil like you.”

    Frank J. Kautz, II
    Staff Attorney

    Community Service Network, Inc.
    52 Broadway
    Stoneham, MA 02180
    (781) 438-1977
    (781) 438-6037 fax
    FrankKautz@csninc.org –work
    Frank@Kautzlaw.com –private

    (Note, while I am no longer a solo, I spent 5 years on my own prior to having a local non-profit make me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I may not be solo any more, but I am the only attorney in the office and operate very much like a solo. I am just lucky enough to get a steady paycheck while doing it. :)

    • Hi Frank,

      I appreciate your feedback. However, I do disagree. This article is not about me telling older lawyers not to express their opinions to me or about me taking criticism personally. When attorneys or anyone else expresses their opinion about me and my work, I directly address it if I deem it worth addressing. And regarding having a thicker skin, I can’t imagine a profession where an even thicker skin is required than the legal profession. Should we really suggest that lawyers have an even thicker ‘thick skin’ or should we stop being so harshly critical (especially in circumstances where we don’t have all of the facts anyway)?

      The point of this article is to address an issue in the legal profession of older lawyers bullying younger lawyers, particularly with the use of the word “ethics.” Understandably, the opinion of experienced attorneys is meaningful to young lawyers which is why its such a shame that some older lawyers use that power to discourage young lawyers from doing anything they wouldn’t do. For example, constantly suggesting that young solos right out of law school are likely to get disbarred because they don’t understand ethics is absurd and causes intimidation among young lawyers and law students I have spoken to. Particularly when, as some of my colleagues point out, its a case of the pot calling the kettle black. That is what I am pointing out and that is why I was angry when I wrote this article.

      Regarding whether lawyers report other lawyers for misconduct, I don’t have much commentary on that. Each individual should do what they think is best after applying the rules (and by the way, I personally think ethics rules are chock full of enormous gray areas which is why I have utilized the state bar’s ethics hotline in the past). If someone wants to report another lawyer based on limited facts, let them do so. Ethical attorneys have nothing to fear because they know whether or not they are in compliance with professional rules. The main harm would be wasting the lawyer’s time.

      • Hi Rachel,

        You say: “This article is not about me telling older lawyers not to express their opinions to me or about me taking criticism personally.” If it is not about that, then what is it about? If the older lawyers (or any other ones for that matter) are expressing their opinions to others, then why get involved? :) Don’t get me wrong, I agree you have the right to do that, but it certainly is about you telling older lawyers not to express their opinions to you.

        As for thick skin, we lawyers have nothing on doctors, politicians, and prison guards. They need thick skins. We need them too, but all three out do us any day of the week and twice on Monday (well, okay, Sunday for politicians).

        I agree that old lawyers should not be using “ethics” as a way to bully young lawyers, but those lawyers that know they are correct, read the rules to know they are correct, and still listen to an older lawyer’s wrong interpretation of the rules get what they deserve. Chances are high that the very “old lawyers” you are complaining of will never read this. Oh, and you should also include several state’s bar counsels in this as well. I have heard more than one say that lawyers who go solo right out of school either are or are more likely than not going to violate the rules. Personally, I think that is just so much manure, but those are the ones that we need to go after. They are the real danger.

        Frank

  • Those big meanies! Way to call them on the mat…except…you’re scolding people without naming them.

    All we have is your position and lots of hearsay. While hearsay might be fine for the court of public opinion and lay people – you’re not speaking to the public or lay people. The audience here are lawyers. Hearsay doesn’t cut it in court and lawyers shouldn’t tolerate it either when it comes to ethical allegations.

    If you’re that sure of your position, so firm in your conviction – why not simply state who you are talking about? Let them come here and defend what they said to you and everyone can hear both sides of the argument. But you didn’t do that.

    Instead, what you’re doing here comes off as stomping your feet in a huff after you’ve been bettered.

    • Keith,

      I don’t think my expressing my opinion in a professional article is equivalent to stopping my feet but you are certainly entitled to your opinion. Personally, hearsay rules for outside the courtroom seems like a bit much to me.

      To be clear, this article was prompted by my discussions with various older and younger attorneys, blog posts and news articles I’ve read over the last several months. Its not about any particular attorney attacking me and I am not attacking any particular attorney. I am attacking a practice that I think is ridiculous and has a negative affect on the profession and therefore warrants pointing out.

  • I kind of feel caught between two generations of lawyers, as I graduated law school and started my practice in 2002, before the internet *really* took off as a tool for marketing. I absolutely agree about the approaches of many older lawyers towards new solos, but I view the problem a bit differently. I see several competing aspects to the problem:
    1. A culture of “ethical scaremongering” fostered by CLE presenters, which I suspect has been around a long time. In short, lawyers are taught to be perpetually on guard for ethical violations around every corner.
    2. Advertising rules that are always 1-2 decades behind advertising technology. Today’s rules are great for mass mailings and Yellow Pages ads, but not so much for blogs.
    3. The slow but steady decline of the big firm business model. I guess the jury is still out, but I suspect newer models of law practice will siphon business away from the old-school firms more and more.
    4. A glut of new young solos absolutely will lead to some very bad ideas in law practice. There is perhaps no other profession more resistant to true innovation than law. That said, the glut of new lawyers and scarcity of law firm jobs will lead to some new solos driven more by necessity than entrepreneurial drive. This may lead to marketing and professional decisions that violate existing ethics rules and put clients at risk and/or create even bigger problems. An extreme example would be a certain young lawyer who recently sued the internet (full disclosure: I’m a defendant). This is a valid concern, although I happen to think older attorneys should reach out to new solos rather than try to scare them away (without sugar-coating how difficult and thankless solo practice is.)

    I sincerely believe that the practice of law is changing dramatically, and that some young lawyers are leading that change. Law is a very traditional profession that tends to view all change, good or bad, with suspicion.

    • David,

      You make some very good points and observations that I 100% agree with!

      The only thing I disagree with is that young lawyers going solo will lead to “marketing and professional decisions that violate existing ethics rules and put clients at risk and/or create even bigger problems.” Where does this assumption come from? Young lawyers are not, by nature, incapable of complying with ethics rules. That is a basic part of practice set up that every recent law grad should be acutely aware of given the professional liability education requirements in law school and the MPRE and ethics makes its way on to the bar exam as well.

      Regarding the young lawyer in particular that you are referring to, that case was such big news because it was so outlandish and unlikely. Those cases are rare because lawyers who operate like he allegedly did, are rare. And lawyers who are willy nilly like that are not limited to being young. I am sure we have all met older lawyers who operate in an outlandish way.

      • I probably did not express my point about “marketing and professional decisions that violate existing ethics rules and put clients at risk and/or create even bigger problems” very clearly as I was typing it on my Blackberry while stuck in traffic. I am not trying to generalize about young lawyers at all (especially since I still consider myself a young lawyer), and I have no doubt that questionable business decisions among lawyers are in no way limited to the younger generations of lawyers.

        I was trying to describe a possible cause for concern among lawyers in general, which is unfortunately being dealt with by painting all young solos with the same broad brush. That cause for concern is this: the bad economy combined with declining BigLaw hiring and increased law school graduation leads to a large number of newly-minted attorneys entering the solo practice field and clamoring for increasingly scarce business (especially as more would-be clients go the DIY route). Increased supply of lawyers + decreased demand for lawyers + increased number of self-employed new lawyers lacking practical experience = widespread innovation in legal services. Just as in almost any other business or industry, not all innovation is good. Some new business ideas work, and some don’t. Lawyers, IMHO, have the potential to do more damage than most other types of business with new but ill-conceived business ideas. The legal profession’s resistance to innovation, while annoying to a self-employed lawyer like me (and presumably you), at times serves a useful purpose. I am not saying that most, or even very many, new solo lawyers will cause harm to their clients, but the risk is there.

        Now then, that is only one small “justification” for older lawyers’ suspicion of brand new solos in a vast sea of unjustifiable disdain. A more likely explanation could be that brand new lawyers going solo en masse threatens the older generation’s privileged position as gatekeepers of the legal profession. It could be plain old jealousy, in that big firm life used to be the only path to the comparative freedom of solo practice, but new technologies have made it possible to run a law firm without a whole room devoted to storing case reporters. Anyway, even if the concern about mass ethical mayhem from new lawyers were warranted, ethical doomsaying would still be the wrong response.

        A few bad apples who approach marketing their solo legal practice with all the panache of a used car salesman (no disrespect to used car salesmen intended) should not spoil it for everybody else. Not all lawyers will see it that way, but it should be the role of all lawyers to help each other out.

        As a side note, I really like what you said about basic morality, honesty, et al. I’ve frequently been horrified by colleagues who spend more time discussing the bill with the client than discussing the case, but I’ve also been burned by clients when I let a late or missed payment slide. I hope other young lawyers can shift focus away from billable hours and find success (at least more than I ever did.) The culture of machismo, for lack of a better word, among lawyers usually prevents any sort of large-scale cooperation that might actually bring basic morality into legal practice. I really do hope there are a lot more young lawyers like you.

        • Hi David,

          Thanks for your additional comments.

          Regarding referencing the discussion, as long as you provide the source with a link I believe its okay but best to check with Susan on that. :)

  • Great post Rachel. It is unfortunate that the stick in the mud crowd are not excited about the possibilities and energy of young attorney’s trying something new. Keep it up!!

  • I’m not sure what you’re responding to — I have not seen any examples of established attorneys using “ethics” as a threat to scare young attorneys away from establishing their own practices. You make it sound like there are a bunch of Scooby-Doo villains out there, trying to scare people away from the gold mine. I just don’t see it like that.

    That said, I’d imagine that young lawyers probably should be scared of ethical pitfalls — why mess up your career before it’s even begun? There’s a difference between being threatened, and being warned that certain practices — common enough in other endeavors — will get you in serious trouble if attempted by a lawyer.

    I’m a solo, and an absurd proportion of my clients come to me via the internet, so I’m the last person to try to scare anyone off. The more the merrier. But I also feel duty-bound to point out the pitfalls, and also to call out those who are just blatantly unethical. Good ethics lies not solely with one’s own conduct, but also in not tolerating misconduct by others in the profession.

    It’s pretty simple: 1- The client comes first. 2- Know what you’re talking about before you open your mouth. 3- Don’t take on a case you can’t handle. 4- Don’t misrepresent anything to anyone, ever, not even the slightest — and that includes what you say about yourself online. Just four simple rules, and they cover pretty much everything.

    The outrage is not that older lawyers complain about those who violate these rules, but that there are lawyers at all — young or old — who don’t seem to understand the rules to begin with.

    • NEB nails it.

      “1- The client comes first. 2- Know what you’re talking about before you open your mouth. 3- Don’t take on a case you can’t handle. 4- Don’t misrepresent anything to anyone, ever, not even the slightest — and that includes what you say about yourself online.”

      That 4th one is the real stickler for younger lawyers online.

      • I am not sure why the 4th one would be a real stickler for young lawyers online. My client base is attracted to my practice because I am a young lawyer. I don’t think its necessary or even often done that young lawyers lie about their years of experience.

    • NEB,

      I agree with most of your comments and kudos to you for taking the time to mentor lawyers and point out ethical pitfalls.

      I think its great that you have not encountered lawyers using “ethics” to scare off young attorneys and using the word “ethics” to put themselves on a pedestal and belittle others. Unfortunately, I have. And know many other lawyers who have as well.

      • Such as?

        I can’t help feeling that you’re either overreacting to proper criticism of behavior that crosses (or threatens to cross) the line, or knocking down a straw man. I could be wrong, of course, but if you don’t cite examples of the offending conduct it’s hard to understand what you’re reacting to.

        • NEB, anyone who has started a practice right out of law school or shortly thereafter has been told they are a malpractice suit waiting to happen. Their law schools tell them this if they even mention the idea of going out on their own. Their law schools don’t even understand an online office. There are no strawmen or particular individuals. It is a reaction to a collective experience and one I can certainly relate to having lived it myself.

          • anyone who has started a practice right out of law school or shortly thereafter has been told they are a malpractice suit waiting to happen

            Susan, I was never told that, but I listened to any advice anyone wanted to give me, kept my mouth shut, and didn’t pretend that I had left law school with a full understanding of all of the ethical nuances of the practice of law.

          • Mark,

            There is a difference between listening to well-meaning and thoughtful, encouraging advice including avoiding landmines with two ears engaged and mouth shut and being told you simply can’t do it..that the mere act of opening a practice is professional malpractice. It doesn’t mean new lawyers know everything. I don’t think anyone has suggested that. It means they don’t want to be told by those who have ‘more experience’ that the mere idea they want to open their own practice is a basis for malpractice and the bogeyman is sitting at their door. I had not one person encourage me. Not one. Instead I was told I had hutspah, I was crazy, and I was going to fail. I was also in my mid-thirties when I graduated and I was still looked at as if I was contagious when I already had ten successful years in the business world. It’s an attitude, a condescension, a broad-brush approach to a particular group of lawyer – the new lawyer right out of school who wants to go into business for him or herself. And the lack of support is legendary.

          • I have certainly been told that I am skating on the edge of malpractice at any moment, but I never really let it get to me. My fear was always more that some judge would decide to make an example of me for showing up unprepared to court by throwing me in jail for the night or something. I’m not sure how often that happens, but I recall watching a CLE video on practicing in federal court where every story ended with “and then they took the lawyer to the holding cell.” That may just be a quirk of the federal judges in my city, though.

            After 9 years, I still have yet to be held in contempt or spend any time on the wrong side of the glass in the jail. The ethics CLE’s still annoy me, though.

          • Still sounds to me like y’all are getting legit cautions and advice, which you’re incorrectly reacting to as a threat.

  • The internet is filled with a bunch of meanies who don’t always constructive criticism (I’ve argued with some of those same ones here http://goo.gl/aFMnc ) but it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. If you “practice law online or [ ] practice law in a state where I do not live or [ ] market my practice online”, then you raise a host of ethical issues, issues that even major companies like LegalZoom haven’t been able to traverse successfully.

    Maybe the ethics rules should be changed to allow a broader array of unbundled legal services like basic contract review and corporate formation, but for the moment the old, vague rules are still in place — and are ignored at a young lawyer’s peril.

    • Max,

      Are you comparing a solo’s ability to navigate ethics rules in their state(s) to a national company who provides legal services in every state yet no lawyers are involved in providing said legal services to the public? Those are two completely different types of entities, no?

      Furthermore, nothing in my article suggests that lawyers should ignore ethics rules. In fact, I am stating the exact opposite. I follow the ethics rules in my states, despite the fact that some lawyers have so much commentary about it, they clearly don’t know the rules for the states in which I practice. My point is that young lawyers should not buy into the idea that they cannot navigate the ethics rules on their own and that older attorneys should get off their so-called “ethical high horses” from which they chide any youthful and innovative passersby. If you didn’t get that from the article, then may be you want to give it a second read.

      Lastly, I was born and raised in NYC which means I don’t scare easily. I’ve faced down bullies in junior high school who were way tougher and scarier than any so-called internet “meanies” (as you call them) hiding behind a computer.

      • All lawyers — even non-lawyers in certain instances — are subject to the same ethical rules in each state, whether part of a national company or working by themselves.

        Any lawyer, young or old, who thinks they can easily “navigate the ethics rules on their own” is a fool; we all do the best we can to interpret those rules and we ignore other lawyers’ thoughts — even if mean-spirited — at our peril. There is no harm in remaining open to narrow interpretations while there can be grave harm in casually assuming the broader interpretation is correct.

        The rules are vague, ambiguous, open to multiple interpretations, and often enforced in a haphazard, seemingly arbitrary manner. A young lawyer might be entirely right, for example, that giving a client general guidance about forming an LLC in another state shouldn’t be considered the unauthorized practice of law, but the young lawyer isn’t the authority, the Disciplinary Board — often filled with older attorneys who proudly call themselves curmudgeons — is the authority. There is thus ample reason to tread lightly where ethics are concerned. “Blazing a trail for new ways to both practice law and deliver their services” sounds good in theory but it is not without some degree of risk.

        • I agree that ethical rules are often “vague, ambiguous, open to multiple interpretations, and often enforced in a haphazard, seemingly arbitrary manner.” Which means that all lawyers are subject to the same risk when interpreting them. Treading lightly is not just for young lawyers, its for all lawyers.

  • Walking across the street sounds good idea in theory, but it’s not without a certain degree of risk.

    Rachel, the law has been questioning innovation since the wheel. For every caveman who said, “A wheel? Nah, I’d rather stick to dragging my belongings” or folks who said, “A lightbulb? Nah, I like my candles”, there’s attorney’s who’ll tell you “A computer, wordprocessing software, an electronic email and an attachment?!? NAH, I’d rather stick with my dictated letter, my telefacsmili (I like the thin shiny paper), and the YOU-nited States Postal Service, bankrupt as though they may be.” You can’t escape it. That’s what the law is – an avenue by which innovation is vetted. Often times it’s for the good, but sometimes it’s for the bad of said, heretofore, innovation.

    Just remember to keep hustling and that if you’re client likes what you are doing, you will NEVER lose (of course, somebody will comeback with what they think is an advance on this concept to say, if you’re client doesn’t like what you are doing then you run the risk….blah blah blah. THANKS).

    • Kris,

      If you are referring to me, I know of no such hole that I’m in and I do not know what your referring to. If you would like a proper response you will need to be more specific.

  • I have not witnesses experienced lawyers using ethics as a weapon against young lawyers. Frankly I am not sure how that would be accomplished.

    But, if you were to ask me if it is advisable for someone to open their own practice right out of law school without spending a few years working under an experienced lawyer I would say absolutely not. Fresh out of law school, you simply don’t know enough to be a reliable source of legal advice except in the simplest of matters.

    The legal profession in this country is greatly suffering from a glut of lawyers being pumped out by universities that see law schools as a great money maker. Too many young people are being lured into law school with the vision of six-figure salaries dancing in their heads only to be dumped on the market without any hope of obtaining a job with a lawyer that can provide the mentoring that any new lawyer desperately needs. As a result there are too many new young lawyers that have mistaken twitter for a real mentor and marketing for experience.

  • David,

    I do not owe you or any other “non-grievance committee” attorney any explanation whatsoever. People may choose to make public assumptions about me and my practice (which, ironically, may or may not make them in violation of their state’s ethics rules), but that does not make me required to respond. Particularly when my statements are perceived as “rants” and the clear meaning of the words I write are misconstrued or downright ignored by those who choose to view them in a negative light.

    Any response given will be because I think that is what is best for me and/or my family, my clients, my practice, my audience. Not because one is demanded by a modern day lynch mob.

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