On Preventing Web Mobs: The Prisoner’s Dilemma And “Tit For Tat” Reconsidered


As I expected, it took all of ten minutes for my post about the web vigilante attack on Dr. Walter Palmer to bear fruit, as in tomatoes tossed at my metaphorical face. The reason, as I calculated in advance, was my decision to employ a Tit for Tat strategy in responding to what I believe is a deadly trend on the internet that requires a strong response to restrain it. A would-be commenter attempted to make my blog party to web mob efforts to do financial, personal and even physical harm to the hapless hunting dentist by publicizing various addresses and phone numbers. I published his e-mail address.

I’m not sorry.

The  issue raised by my conduct involves integrity. By giving out the e-mail address of a commenter (because the commenter unethically attempted to publicize personal contact information regarding Palmer and his family) when I state on the site that I will not do so, I both violated my own policies and engaged in conduct that this blog specifically declares unethical: Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: The ABA Journal

"I just know we're forgetting something! "Effects"? No, that's not it..."Ethanol"? No, no..."Prosthetics"? Arrrgh! What IS it?

“I just know we’re forgetting something! “Effects”? No, that’s not it…”Ethanol”? No, no…”Prosthetics”? Arrrgh! What IS it?”

This is as disheartening and it is shocking. The American Bar Association Journal, the monthly magazine of the nation’s largest lawyer organization and in many ways the face of the legal profession in the United States, just announced its 6th Annual Blawg 1oo, its reader-chosen list of the best law-related blogs on the web. There are many excellent blogs honored, of course; indeed all of them are useful or entertaining. I’ve visited most of them, and some, like Popehat, the Legal Professions Blog, Above the Law, the Volokh Conspiracy, Scotus Blog,  the New York Personal Injury Law Blog, and Over-Lawyered, I check on several times a week. There is a remarkably wide range of blog topics covered, including superhero law, practicing law in China and zombies. Guess what’s not covered?

Legal ethics. Continue reading

Jury Summation: 20 Conclusions Regarding Elizabeth Warren’s Law License Controversy

1. Elizabeth Warren may have engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in Massachusetts at various times.

2. It is not as clear that she has done so as her primary accuser, Prof. Jacobson, appears to believe, nor is it as certain that she has not done so as her reflexive defenders assert.

3. If she did practice Massachusetts law without a license, it is very unlikely that she did so intentionally.

4. It is also likely that at this moment, she herself is unsure whether she did or not.

5. I very much doubt that if she did as Prof. Jacobson asserts,  that would lead to discipline by the Massachusetts Bar. The discussion of the issues surrounding Warren’s situation make it clear that a) the whole area of unauthorized practice when it involves state and Federal law is relatively unresolved and murky, with even  legal ethics experts in disagreement, b) it would be impossible to separate the professional regulation of the matter from its political content, and 3) any time members of the disciplinary committee slap their foreheads and say, “Damned if I know!” when the discussion turns to what the rules require, discipline is unlikely, and properly so.

6. The fact that Warren may have blundered into UPL between the varying requirements of her two bar memberships and her intermittent practice in Massachusetts does not make her unfit to practice law.

7. It may, combined with her unwillingness to candidly and thoroughly reveal all documents that bear on the issue, call into question her fitness to be a U.S. Senator, especially one running on the proposition that regulations on another profession (the financial sector) need to be strictly followed and tightly enforced. It definitely is worth exploring and explaining to voters, which the mainstream media clearly does not intend to do. Continue reading

Next To Board The Trayvon Martin Ethics Train Wreck? Why, The Lawyers, Of Course!

George Zimmerman attorneys Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig explaining that their client is innocent, and how they are dropping him like a hot potato because of all the suspicious things he's been doing.

Over at the Legal Ethics Forum, the superb blog on the many and fast-moving ethical issues in the legal field, the usually reserved and impeccably professional blog founder, attorney John Steele, had this message for George Zimmerman’s ex-lawyers:

“[S] hut up, guys. Shut the h*** up. It’s not about you. It’s supposed to be about the client.  And that’s even before we get to the ethics rules on confidentiality.”*

Really, that’s about all that needs to be said.

During Ken Starr’s investigation of the Monica Lewinsky affair, his ethics counsel, former Watergate prosecutor Sam Dash, resigned with a public statement that he believed Starr had crossed ethical lines. Sam was my ethics professor in law school, and a finer man and more ethical lawyer never walked the earth, but on that day his ethics alarms broke down. A lawyer may not harm his or her client during the representation, and that includes leaving it. Why lawyers think that the fact that a case is getting a lot of publicity should alter their ethical obligations is a mystery, but they often do. If you have a dispute with a client, if you’ve decided that a client is dishonest, manipulative or can’t be trusted, or if, as in Zimmerman’s case, he takes actions that make your job more difficult or doesn’t communicate with you enough to do a competent job, fine: Rule 1.16 of the Rules of Professional Conduct says you can quit. The rule also says, however, that “…a lawyer must take all reasonable steps to mitigate the consequences to the client.One of those reasonable steps is not to make your withdrawal a major news story. Continue reading

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln: Abe on Lawyer Ethics

John Steele, on his essential blog, the Legal Ethics Forum, had the wit and wisdom to post Abraham Lincoln’s “Notes for a Law Lecture” today in commemoration of Abe’s birthday. I had been looking for an appropriate post for the occasion, and I cannot improve on John’s selection.  Written around 1850, it is as excellent a statement of what lawyers should aspire to in 2011 as it was when Lincoln was practicing, and it also confirms our 16th President’s eloquence, clarity of thought, and instincts for good.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln.


Abraham Lincoln’s Notes for a Law Lecture Continue reading

The Legal Ethics Forum’s Top Stories of 2009

It is the time for year-end lists—Ethics Alarms will post its 2009 ethics award winners  soon—and one of the best is out. From the always excellent Legal Ethics Forum comes legal ethics ace John Steele’s list of the Top Legal Ethics Stories of 2009. Even though John left out my personal favorite, it is a thorough and enlightening compendium. Even if you aren’t a lawyer (perhaps especially if you aren’t!), it is worth reading. Something on his list will affect your life sooner or later, if it hasn’t already.