In the course of the long and sordid drama surrounding “Internet lawyer” Charles Carreon and Matthew “The Oatmeal” Inman, there have been many opportunities for lawyers to learn from Carreon’s example. Or rather, learn what not to do by Carreon’s example.
Carreon may have held himself out as an “Internet lawyer” (whatever that is), but it is clear he was not well-equipped to do battle on the Internet. Or in court, as it turns out.
At Credit Slips, Paul Levy itemizes some of Carreon’s glaring legal mistakes when Carreon threatened an anonymous blogger at charles-carreon.com, who then sued:
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On Gyi’s Better Blog Commenting post, Kyle Smith responded seriously to a joke comment about spamming blogs. I think he missed the joke, and when I responded that I think spamming blog comments makes you look like a douche, he revealed that “the douche-factor isn’t that much of a concern” because “I think that the average comment isn’t going to be seen by your clients … .”
Whoa there. It’s okay to be a douche if you don’t think your clients will discover it? Maybe that’s not what he meant, but that’s what he said.
Here’s better advice:
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“Outsourcing” means paying someone else to do part of your job. Eric Turkewitz coined the expression “outsourcing marketing = outsourcing ethics.” While that is true, it does not include a value judgment, and lawyers routinely trust third parties with tasks that could land us in ethical hot water, from communications to file storage and destruction to marketing.
I don’t think outsourcing, insourcing, or other kinds of -sourcing are an inherently bad idea. What is a bad idea is hiring anyone to do anything without due diligence.
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Usually it seems pretty self-explanatory that legal fees are to be charged for legal work, but Ms. Katherine M. Guste of Louisiana got herself in hot water (gumbo?) with the Supreme Court of Louisiana for charging and refusing to refund fees for non-legal work. According to the court’s opinion enforcing a two-year suspension [pdf], Ms. Guste provided legal services to prepare a power of attorney and represent her client in the matter of a hit-and-run accident. Thereafter,
[Guste] continued to provide services fro Mr. Perniciaro, including assisting him in canceling the power of attorney, taking him to the bank and running other errands with him, and packing and storing his personal and household belongings in preparation for his move from one nursing home to another.
There was no written agreement for either the legal or non-legal services, although apparently both parties agreed to the same hourly rate of $125 for both types of service. There was, however, a significant question as to his mental capacity based on the fact that the client was a victim of Huntington’s Disease, noted by the court as “a genetic brain disorder that results in the progressive loss of both cognitive functions and physical control.”
So between charging legal fees for non-legal work, having no written agreement, and not keeping an accounting of her time, it seems like Ms. Guste really made a mess of things in this situation. Generally these situations are less black and white than the court’s opinion makes it out to be, but I think we can all agree that this was not an optimal way of interacting with the client. It makes me wonder about other quasi-business transactions clients request of their lawyers, and what would be the best way to respond to such a request. Have you ever had a client request non-legal services? How did you respond?
(photo: Shutterstock: 93796168)
In the LAB, Nicole Black is (unsurprisingly) full of good information on ethics and the cloud:
Also, the ABA recently revised Model Rule 1.1 to require lawyers to not only to maintain a knowledge of law and a level of skill in the practice of law, but it also now requires lawyers to have (and maintain) proficient knowledge and skills related to legal technologies. So a vendor green light from a bar association wouldn’t be enough, in any event. You still have to have tech proficiency.
See, it’s just not okay to be a Luddite, anymore. You cannot be ethical if you don’t understand what you are doing with your data. You can’t just hire someone else to take care of your data, either. Not without understanding what it is they are doing. You cannot outsource ethics.
You can’t just avoid the cloud, either. Most cloud services are much more secure than your average solo or small firm with no IT department can manage. Staying out of the cloud is not magically more ethical than maintaining your own non-secure PC or file server.
Want to know what your state thinks about cloud computing? Thanks to Nicole Black’s post in the LAB, here is the ABA’s handy reference chart so you can see what your state’s ethics board thinks about cloud computing.
Currently, by the way, lawyers in all 50 states may use the cloud. Ethics boards in 13 states seem to have specifically considered the issue, and all say it’s fine to use the cloud as long as you use “reasonable care” in selecting services — as with pretty much everything else on the business end of law practice.
I don’t really know why lawyers are so freaked out about the cloud. Everyone seems to assume there must be some big ethics issues with using cloud software, even if the security of any reputable cloud-based software is light-years ahead of the security most solo and small firms are capable of.
Most of us walk around all day believing that everything we do, experience, think, feel, and worry about gets stored away in our memory, and that memory is an extraordinarily important part of the individual mind.
In fact, there’s a real distinction between two very separate memories, and minds, at work inside that one lovely brain of yours. Understanding the difference betweeen the two, and how they work together, can make you a more effective and happier lawyer and person.
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This sentence, from young “virtual lawyer” Rachel Rogers, gives me the willies.
There have been times when I’ve woken up in the morning and I have new clients. They’ve found me online somehow and I’ve never had any interaction with them, but now they’re my clients. It’s pretty sweet.
I’m trying to decide if there are any legal matters so trivial and about which I could be so competent that I would feel comfortable taking on clients without even meeting them beforehand to discuss their needs and my capabilities. Maybe a few, but there are still a lot of things that could go wrong, not all of which could be cured by a refund.
Read “Law grads going solo and loving it” on NBC News (HT Alison Monahan).