Life Imitates Saul

Lawyer Billboard

 The billboard ad of North Carolina lawyer Larry Archie has drawn a lot of attention in the state and on legal ethics forums.

Some observations:

1. I was a little late seeing “Breaking Bad” ( I tend to avoid show with drug dealers as heroes) so I didn’t see the obvious connection between the popular AMC show’s cynical, unethical and effective slime-ball lawyer Saul Goodman, played by Bob Odenkirk, and last year’s jaw-dropping—but funny!—video ad for the services of Pittsburgh criminal lawyer Daniel Muessig.

2. This is why we ignore popular culture at our peril….and I think the legal profession needs to stop laughing and start worrying. People really do think Saul who is a criminal lawyer, is typical, and bar associations are doing very little to dissuade them. This is irresponsible, dangerous, and stupid. The profession has a duty to educate the public about how lawyers are supposed to act and why, and if it whiffs on that obligation (as it has for about the last hundred years) public respect for the justice system will continue to drop. Continue reading

Annoyances For The Obsessing Traveling Ethicist

Hepburn

I just got home from another day trip, and am too weary to essay a significant post. Allow me, instead, to give readers a taste of what goes through one’s mind when you have begun to focus exclusively on ethics in preparation for a key, out-of-state presentation:

  • The incompetence of supposed professional broadcasters. Shortly before leaving for the airport on Sunday, I watched the local Fox affiliate report on the new Vogue cover, featuring Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. One of the two anchorwomen noted that there was a parody of the cover titled “Vague” featuring Kermit and Miss Piggy in the same poses. She pronounced it as “Vagg.” Her partner did not correct her. I think newsreaders should be able to read, don’t you?
  • Dishonesty in headlines. With the Kardashians still gnawing at my brain, I noticed an issue of “Star” in an airport magazine rack. The headline read, “Kardashians Cancelled!” Filled with momentary hope for civilization, I looked up the corresponding story in the rag. It stated that cable’s “Keeping Up With The Kardashians had been renewed, but that the family was worried that it might be cancelled next year. Yes, the headline was “X” and the story was “Not X.” I don’t care that the Star is just a glossy paper tabloid—how can anyone justifying this? Deceitful headlines are bad, but at least they are literally true, if misleading. Tabloid ethics are as low as ethics can be, but this flat-out false cover headline seems to have breached them… a neat trick.
  • More  incompetence of supposed professional broadcasters. CNN’s John Berman showed a clip of Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton with Jimmy Kimmel and said…”Next…what Jimmy Kimmel did with three generations of Clintons.

Continue reading

Lawyer Daniel Muessig’s Clever, Effective, Legally Ethical And Thoroughly Despicable Ad

Just as I’ve been desperately trying to explain that lawyers do not represent bad people because they like them or want to loose them upon the world,  here comes innovative Pittsburgh lawyer Daniel Muessig, whose clever TV ad proclaims that this is exactly what he wants to do. Here it is:

Is this an ethical ad? According to the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct, it is within the conduct permitted by the state’s legal ethics rules. The ad isn’t misleading. It doesn’t make promises the lawyer cannot keep. It doesn’t represent dramatic recreations as fact, or use broad metaphors and exaggerations. (Lawyer ads are held to a standard of literalness that presumes the public has never see any other kinds of advertising in their entire lives.) Once upon a time the various state bar advertising regulations included prohibitions on “undignified” communications, or those that undermined public trust in the profession, but those days are long past: the standards were necessarily vague, and breached free speech principles.

So we have this: a lawyer who appeals to his future criminal clients by saying that he thinks like a criminal, believes laws are arbitrary, that other lawyers will “blow them off” and that he visits jails frequently because that’s where his friends are. He attacks his own colleagues and profession, denigrates the rule of law he is sworn to uphold, and seeks the trust of criminals not because of his duty as a professional, but because he’s just like them. Muessig is willing to undermine the law-abiding public’s belief in the justice system and the reputation of his profession and his colleagues in order to acquire clients. I’m sure his strategy will work, too. Continue reading