From The “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished” Files…

Among the other horrible unintended consequences of the destructive response to the Wuhan virus pandemic is that it has made professionals lazy. I just completed my first legal ethics seminar in front of a live out-of-town audience in more than two years, and only my fourth with participants I could look at and talk to in that time. I am told that lawyers like the convenience of getting their Continuing Legal Education credits using Zoom, from the comfort of their homes or offices.

In the program two days ago, for example, ten lawyers attended by coming to the classroom, but over 190 watched remotely.

Well, as our children found out over the past two years of panic and fearmongering, remote learning doesn’t work. I know that many of those seminar attendees out in Zoomland are doing billable work, or playing with their dogs, or otherwise not giving the topic their full attention. Legal ethics is essential for a self-policing profession like the law, and ethics is hard; being an ethical lawyer takes practice. In trainings, that means being tested with tough questioning by the instructor ( that is, me). Now, however, most lawyers want to exert the least effort possible while getting their mandatory credits, meaning that they are not taking their responsibilities seriously. Many will suffer for this. More importantly, clients will suffer.

In this vein, I praised the attorneys who eschewed Zoom the past two days, and told them that I would reward each them of the with a gratis hour’s worth of ethics consultation over the next twelve months. I charge $390 an hour, so if the time is used, it will more than cover their fee for the seminar.

I then learned that two of the Zoom attendees complained bitterly to the state sponsors. They hadn’t known that I would be handing out that bonus, they said; if they had, they said they would have come in person too. There’s a flaw in this reasoning: I don’t receive the fees for the session, and the sponsoring group wasn’t giving out the free hours. It was a spontaneous gesture on my part.

Nonetheless, I agreed to let the sponsor tell the angry Zoomers that they could have a free hour too, even though they hadn’t earned it.

17 thoughts on “From The “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished” Files…

  1. Why does one have to be told in advance that a bonus will be given. Rewards are not compensation for doing the right thing they are for going beyond what counts as the minimum duty.

    I don’t know if I would have succumbed to the economic pressure from the client but I hope I would have stuck to my guns and said the bonus was for making the effort to come and be part of a live group that enhances the presentation.

    I won’t fault your decision but I think it might be high time we tell these prima donnas where to go when the start bellyaching about not getting a “their fair share”.

    • Well when trophies are given to participants as well as the All Stars does it diminish the symbolism of the trophy or does it diminish what it took to earn it? Or both? (And, does it then tend to diminish and discredit the governing body that bestowed such a token?)

  2. Well, you certainly were caught in a bind there, after you gave the bonus and zoomers learned of it. Part of me says to tell the zoomers to shove it. It was a bonus for making the good choice to attend in person, not for whining after having made a poor choice. But, it’s a business decision, too. You can’t easily afford to piss off clients and potential clients.
    I would expect word to get around and there will be more who think they deserve the bonus. Then, what to do?
    My sympathies.

  3. If they would have come in to get the bonus, they were capable of coming in and just didn’t. Bonuses apparently cancel out pandemic fears.

    If they are as lazy as you fear, they’ll never take you up on the offer.

  4. What is the ethical requirement to make good on a reward to those you intended when you are being coerced into giving it to those not earning the reward?

    What is wrong with saying that because a third party demanded that the rules be changed to accommodate their clients then you will be required to rescind the offer to ensure equity?

  5. Best approach is to close out the conference. End Zoom. Then reward the attendees with the bonus. Since the bonus wasn’t ever incentive to attend – lest you impoverish yourself – but rather a reaction to the non-lazy – then publishing the bonus to *everyone* implies that it would have been a pre-planned incentive to attend.

    Yet, the balance is of course – wanting the non-attendees to *see* the bonus given to the non-lazy to inspire them to attendance in the future.

  6. What you spontaneously chose to do for the in-person attendees was a great perk and one of those unmentioned perks that are routinely handed out for in-person attendance, these kind of business decisions are usually a plus in the long haul. In the end, choosing to include the complaining Zoom’ers was a nice gesture on your part that you didn’t have to do but was also a business decision that might turn out as a plus if they choose to use it (see statement below). We passed out 50% off coupons to people simply for showing up at our booth and checking out our products at trade shows, that too is an in-person perk.

    What I personally consider to be unethical is the behavior of the two Zoom attendees that complained, I’m guessing they had a few participation trophies on their shelves as kids. In my opinion, those two complainers didn’t apply what they had learned from their exposure to a seminar about ethics and may need a lot more than just a free hour of help.


    “They hadn’t known that I would be handing out that bonus, they said; if they had, they said they would have come in person too.”

    I honestly think there may be a new rationalization hidden in that bold part for your list.

    Lastly; if you choose to do something like this in the future try making it 50% off first hour instead of a completely free hour, after all, you are a business and part of being in business is creating income, at least 50% off for an hour still generates some income.

  7. Wow! $350 per hour?! No wonder you were offended when people chose to ZOOM rather than attend with a live audience. So often what we are paid defines how important we are in our industry. In my meager job I make my clients’ day just by being there for them. But I am not worth $350 because many others can do my job which is very simple. The fewer people there are who can do a certain
    job, makes the job pay higher. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Serena Williams come to mind.
    How about Jack Marshall? That people are willing to keep you and others like you in business means they get what they need from your services.
    Now to the ZOOM meeting.
    Next time “limit” the attendance to 200 people and then say the rest will have to be on ZOOM. You’ll fill the house (as you should).
    Here are a few questions: If ZOOM technology allows communication on any level is it appropriate in every level? (I would say no). So what is the difference? Everyone knows the factors which need to be considered for ZOOM to be warranted: frequency of meetings, capacity of meeting space, expense relative to value to the attendee/company, and (enter Jack Marshal and his ilk) the popularity or appeal of the presenter.
    Take Rush Limbaugh for example. Were his radio shows more popular than his tv shows? Yes—because he was a very competent, compelling and professional commentator; just his voice conveying his message was enough for most people. (Too much for some!)
    Rush on ZOOM (dittocam) was not more effective than on radio.
    But seeing Rush live would have brought down the house!
    But that’s not the venue wherein he believed he was at his best. Live presentations by those skilled in the art of effective communication are always best, especially with time allowed for effective, proper and with Q and A.

    Don’t write off potentially very effective ZOOM participants as lazy. Their time may be more valuable than you think, and the new technology (ZOOM) more accepted as adequate than in the past.

      • No, I should think not, yet I’m sure there was a substantial budget someone had to see to in order for the event to take place.

    • 1. $390 an hour.
      2. Not offended. Just aware. My teaching method is interactive and dynamic, and Zoom, or other remote versions of it including video, are far less effective, just as live theater is more effective than TV, where the audience may be leaving to go to the bathroom or leafing through magazines. Did you see the statistics about how having to go to school remotely put students back in their skills years? Same with lawyers.
      3. There are very few qualified legal ethics trainers. One reason is that too may lawyers tend not to care about ethics until they get caught. Another reason is that the demand isn’t strong enough to result in anywhere near the same kind of regular income as practicing law. If states didn’t require legal ethics credits, there would be almost no demand at all.
      4. Many of my clients tell me that I don’t charge enough. Meanwhile, my seminar fees have barely gone up at all in ten years.
      5. “Next time “limit” the attendance to 200 people and then say the rest will have to be on ZOOM. You’ll fill the house (as you should).” In my dreams.
      6. I’ve had serious tech breakdowns in about 30% of the Zoom seminars. Unacceptable. But even if all the tech is perfect, it is not the equivalent of looking a participant in the eye, for me or her.
      7. The fact that some presenters are more effective heard and not seen does not mean that those whose style and form are pitched to being seen and experienced live will be as effective remotely. Rush had a wonderful voice and delivery—perfect. On TV, his physicality and expressions got in the way. (I could have coached him.)

  8. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t have buckled and extended the offer to the complainers, but I have no idea about the actual costs and realities of the situation. However, looking forward, you now have a unique opportunity- you know exactly who these people are, and when and if they come to you for consultation of professional ethics, you can let them have it with both barrels. Educate them of why in person attendance is so much more important. Tell them the old Aesop of the sour grapes – or better, the dog and his reflection, or the ox and the manger. It’s amazingly kind of them to give you such an obvious starting place to begin thier improvement from. I hope they take you up on your generous offer, and that they will learn deeply from it!

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