I was chided over the weekend for mocking a misspelling in one of the cuckoo online comments cheering on Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s ridiculous “monitoring” of U.S. military exercises in his state. The thrust of my critic’s argument was that picking on such modes of expression was not only a cheap shot but an elitist cheap shot. I generally deplore the “You wrote ‘teh!'” school of online debate, and in my view, that wasn’t what I was doing when I pointed out this particular Texas paranoid’s spelling of government as “goverment” twice . His “position” didn’t require any rebuttal, as it was self-evidently batty; I alluded to “goverment” because I concluded that it was not a typo, but rather an indication that the commenter was as ignorant as granite block. If you can’t spell government, you haven’t read about government enough to have an opinion on it worth inflicting on the rest of us.
It led me to ponder, however, when a typo has undeniable ethical significance, and mirabile dictu, Above the Law today provided the excellent example you see above.
This is part of the marketing for a law firm—you know, those organizations that provide lawyers to ordinary citizens who need help negotiating the complexities of our nation’s increasingly impenetrable laws and regulations in order to live and prosper? Lawyers are supposedly trained in the precision of language, as the presence or absence of a comma or semi-colon in a statute, a motion or a brief can mean the difference between a client being a criminal or a free man, and an unnoticed typo in the draft of a contract, will, trust or settlement can decide the fate of millions of dollars, the ownership of disputed property, the existence of a prenuptial agreement, and other momentous, life-altering consequences.
The very existence of an embarrassing law firm marketing device like this one—I think it’s a coaster—leads to many conclusions:
1. It tells us that the law firm’s managing partners are inattentive to details, and in law, details are everything.
2. It tells us that the lawyers in the firm inadequately supervise the non-lawyers who work for the firm, and the ethics rules demand that lawyers be especially attentive to such employees and contractors.
3. It tells us that at least one firm lawyer, whoever approved the thing, either is illiterate or can’t be trusted to check the text of documents, even documents containing only three words.
4.It tells us, in short, that this law firm, and by extension the lawyers it employs, cannot be trusted to exercise care, competence and diligence when they are representing themselves.
How can it possibly be trustworthy when it is representing others?
Pointer and Source: Above the Law