Tag Archives: continuing legal education

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/7/2018: Back in the USSR

Good Morning!

1. Self-Promotion Dept. I’m heading off to New Jersey today, to present one of my musical legal ethics seminars—3 hours!—for the New Jersey Bar Association. The real star is my long-time partner in these shows, New York-based singer/musician Mike Messer, who channels Freddie Mercury, Bob Dylan (with harmonica!), Paul Simon, even Johnny Cash in the various song parodies.  This one is called Ethics Rock Extreme, and ends, like all of my musical seminars, with a sing-along. Yes, we get lawyers to sing the chorus of the “Piano Man Parody”…

Sing us the Rules, you’re the ethics man
Sing us the Rules tonight!
We’re stuck in an ethics dilemma here
So tell us what’s wrong and what’s right!

(No, “Back in the USSR” is not one of the songs we do.)

2. First Amendment for me, but not for thee: In an embarrassing episode that is also telling, the Newseum has capitulated to a storm of protests from journalists and will no longer sell its popular “Fake News” mercahndise…like this shirt…

online or in its gift shop. “We made a mistake and we apologize. A free press is an essential part of our democracy and journalists are not the enemy of the people,” the Newseum announced Saturday in a groveling blog post. “Questions have also been raised regarding other merchandise. As an organization that celebrates the rights of people from all political spectrums to express themselves freely, we’ve historically made all types of political merchandise available for our guests to purchase. That has included former and current presidential slogans and imagery and merchandise from all political parties. We continue to do so in celebration of freedom of speech.”

Translation: “In celebration of free speech, we will acquiesce in the censoring of a particular expression of opinion on a humorous T-shirt, because it hurts journalists’ feelings.”

Again, I ask: why does anyone trust journalists and the organizations they represent? Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Journalism & Media, Rights, U.S. Society

Ethics Dunce: The Maryland State Bar Association

Do you know what legal ethics opinions are? Many lawyers don’t know, or barely pay attention to them, but the opinions are important. They are written when bar associations have to decide how to handle the gray areas of professional ethics, and believe me, there are more gray areas in legal ethics than the profession likes to admit. Some jurisdictions churn out lots of important and useful legal ethics opinions all year long; others barely bother with them. (Idaho simply stopped issuing such opinions decades ago.) Still, the LEOs, as they are called, are essential when one of the many legal ethics issues crop up that a jurisdiction’s rules themselves don’t cover.

Although bar associations do a terrible job making their legal ethics opinions’ availability known to the general public, LEOs have invaluable information to convey about how lawyers are ethically obligated to serve their clients. They are also essential if people like me are going to be able to remind Maryland’s lawyers about their ethical duties as part of continuing legal education seminars and expert opinions.

So why is it that Maryland, alone among the 51 U.S. jurisdictions, refuses to allow the public access to their legal ethics opinions? All right, neither does Arkansas, but nobody can read in ArkansasKIDDING!!! I’M KIDDING!

In order to find out what the Bar Association has decided regarding specific legal ethics conundrums, or whether the state has any position at all, one has to be a dues-paying member of the Maryland Bar. Never mind that Maryland lawyers, who, like most lawyers, often are subject to the ethics rules of other jurisdictions, can access neighboring bar association LEO’s with a couple of clicks on their computers. Never mind fairness or reciprocity.

Here’s how the question “Why do we hide our ethics opinions?” was answered by one Maryland lawyer online:

“Ethics opinions are MSBA work product: a benefit to members who pay their dues…An ethics opinion is a legal opinion about what it or is not permissible under the rules. If you want legal advice, pay for it. The “rules”, by the way, are published and are available to the public. As are the elements of negligence. Do you tell your clients for free how to prove their negligence cases?”

How’s that for a venal, snotty answer? In fact, there are no “hidden” laws or principles related to negligence, nor are the standards for what constitutes negligence and how it is proven in court only available for a fee. The legal ethics opinions, on the other hand, may be crucial to allowing non-lawyers  know when they are being victimized by unethical members of the Maryland bar. How convenient that the Bar hides these from the view of the group of citizens that have the most urgent need to know about them.

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, U.S. Society, Workplace

Welcome To My World

Suicide jokes, however, are fine...

Suicide jokes, however, are fine

In the ethics CLE (Continuing Legal Education) world, seminar attendees rank presenters. Ethics is a much-detested topic; if you can crack 3 (out of 5, the best), you are doing well. My scores are usually between 4.6 and 4.9.

Attendees are also invited to write comments. I recently received the survey summaries from an out-of-state seminar I taught to a section of that state’s bar. The response during an immediately after the seminar was terrific, so I expected my usual ratings. The coordinator sent me an e-mail stating that my scores were “very good overall” (4.7, in fact) but that there were “concerns about a rape joke in my presentation.”

There was no rape joke in the session. I don’t make rape jokes.

I had been talking about Donald Trump’s lawyer, in an incident I posted about here, incompetently saying that “you can’t rape your spouse.” “You can rape your spouse,” I said. “I have this image of hopeful spousal abusers reading this idiot’s comments and saying, “This is great!”

I wrote back to the coordinator and said that I wanted my objection to this characterization in my files and on the record. I know how it works. All that is remembered later is the complaint, and groups, even bars, are controversy averse. Next year, when they are deciding whether to have me speak, all that has to happen is for someone to say, “Wasn’t there some rape joke he made that we got flack for?” That would be enough; nobody would check, nobody would investigate. I would be eliminated as a potential speaker, probably for all time. They might even tell another bar association about the episode when they are called about whether to use me. “Well, his seminar was popular, but there was some problem about a rape joke he told.”

I asked to see all the surveys. The “concern” about my “rape joke” consisted of exactly one anonymous comment out of a hundred attendees.

I would estimate political correctness hyper-sensitivity by single attendees cost me about a client a year. The other members of their groups have to be saddled with boring ethics seminars because one lawyer had to prove how vigilant he or she was in being properly offended.

(Now THIS is a rape joke...and I would never tell it.)

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Filed under Daily Life, Education, Gender and Sex, Law & Law Enforcement

My Favorite Lawyer Discipline Story of the Year

I thought nothing could make me smile in 2010 like the lawyer who told her client she was possessed. This isn’t as spectacular, but it sure is welcome.

The Illinois Administrator has filed a complaint alleging that an attorney falsely certified that he had completed online Continuing Legal Education ( CLE) courses when he actually had his secretary watch the seminars and respond to the periodic prompts required that are supposed to prove that the lawyer is paying attention.

From the complaint: Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Education, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions