February 6th, 2016

Ambulance Chasing the NYC Crane Collapse, Via Baton Rouge [With Greek Chorus!]

TwitterOn Friday a construction crane collapsed in Manhattan that was dramatically caught on video, killing one and injuring others. And within hours, a law firm was boasting that it had a lawyer “on scene.” I shit you not. [Uh oh, someone is gonna get filleted and fricasseed, I can smell it coming!] From a legal perspective, it was quite the interesting show the firm put on.

Now if I don’t write about such a naked case of ambulance chasing here, who will?

…Entering, stage right, the Fisher Injury Lawyers [golf clap] apparently based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and led by Bryan and Tommy Fisher. [Cool! Will this be our latest contestant on How To Embarrass The Legal Profession?] 

This four-lawyer firm also claims offices in Texas and New York. The New York firm is staffed by a puppy lawyer admitted to practice in 2014. [Huzzah, huzzah!]

And awaaaay we go….Breaking on Twitter:

Fisher Injury Lawyers on Scene of New York Crane Collapse.

[Lawyers on the scene! No way! Often the actual chasers are “investigators,” so the chuckleheads can try to cover their tracks! These guys are awesome! No subterfuge!]

WebsiteAnd not just Twitter. Oh no. Not in the age of social media. Also on Facebook. And their website. And LinkedIn. The Fishers seem to have covered all the bases.

Except, of course, for that one little base that deals with New York’s anti-solicitation rules, which the Fisher Injury Lawyers of Louisiana seem to violate. [Oh no!  I bet they didn’t see that coming!]

You would think that if lawyers were going to open a New York office and put a young attorney in there they would at least be familiar with our rules of professional responsibility on advertising and solicitation, right?  [Hey, wait, I’m noticing a bit of snark here!]

These rules are, essentially, the very definition of ambulance chasing, a subject that I’ve written about many times before. [I wonder if the Fishers have ever read any of those pieces? I kid!]

A short review if you are reading this blog for the first time :

New York has a 30-day anti-solicitation rule in our Rules of Professional Conduct. It goes like this:

Rule 4.5(a) In the event of a specific incident involving potential claims for personal injury or wrongful death, no unsolicited communication shall be made to an individual injured in the incident or to a family member or legal representative of such an individual, by a lawyer or law firm, or by any associate, agent, employee or other representative of a lawyer or law firm representing actual or potential defendants or entities that may defend and/or indemnify said defendants, before the 30th day after the date of the incident…

[Hey! Maybe they thought it was a 30-second anti-solicitation rule?  Simple misunderstanding! Could happen to anyone!]

When I wrote about this in December 2, 2013, it was Proner and Proner that was running ads after a train derailment in the Bronx.

FacebookAnd at the risk of repeating myself [Take the risk! Take the risk!], soliciting by sending a lawyer to the scene and with targeted ads on a website, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, seems to me to fall pretty damn squarely within the meaning of the Rules to be solicitation as this is not generic advertising but targeted to a specific group of involved people.

[Oh no, this is getting ugly, these guys are going to win a prize for sure! I hope, for their sake, there isn’t another legal cite!] So here is the cite for the definition of solicitation:

Rule 7.3(b)  For purposes of this Rule, “solicitation” means any advertisement initiated by or on behalf of a lawyer or law firm that is directed to, or targeted at, a specific recipient or group of recipients, or their family members or legal representatives, the primary purpose of which is the retention of the lawyer or law firm, and a significant motive for which is pecuniary gain…

LinkedInFisherLawyers-croppedThe initials of the young lawyer who apparently went to the scene are C. T., but because he’s so young and I presume doing the bidding of his boss, I elected not to use his name. [I can see it in the graphic! I can see it in the graphic!] Admittedly that’s a close call, since he should know better anyway. It’s a good example, though, of a lawyer that must learn how to say no. [You didn’t name him in a Google-friendly way?!  You’re getting soft!]

It’s also worth noting that out-of-state lawyers are bound by our code of professional responsibility (Rule 7.3(i)):

(i) The provisions of this Rule shall apply to a lawyer or members of a law firm not admitted to practice in this State who shall solicit retention by residents of this State.

[Is this the part where Bryan Fisher says, “Oh shit!!!”?   I’m sure he won something for this escapade!]

Now what would happen if Fisher Injury Lawyers should somehow procure a client by this chasing (and then, perhaps, flip the case to local counsel in exchange for ⅓ of the fee)? The answer, I think, is that a judge could/should take a close look at those Rules, and assuming that judge agrees with me, take away any legal fee as one can not profit by violating the Rules. [Oh man, if that happens he’s gonna need a tushy doctor to repair the new hole!]

As for any local counsel that should be contacted about a referral (in any case), one of the questions we should always ask is, “How did you get the client?”  There are no doubt many that would turn a blind eye to the original source, but the source of clients is a recurring problem not only with newfound referring attorneys, but with the hordes of “find a lawyer” sites that may be using unethical black hat techniques to procure “leads.” [You mean one of them might one day need a tushy doctor too?]

It’s a good time to remember that ethics and marketing are in a deep embrace. Lawyers must be careful who they climb into bed with, because outsourcing your ethics is a communicable disease — whatever vice your agent commits for the business falls to you also. Such is the nature of agency.

Does anyone want to be the test case in the Appellate Division for lawyers outsourcing their marketing (and ethics and reputation) to others? [Hands?  Hands? Can I see a show of hands?]

It’s also worth noting that any firm with even a basic knowledge of New York practice would also know that you can’t use a trade name like “Injury Lawyers” (Rule 7.5(b)).

But really, the core of this is ambulance chasing. [Ya’ think?] I bring up the other issues only in the context of some lawyers believing it’s OK to just waltz into other jurisdictions without really having a clue as to how they actually operate.

I contacted Bryan Fisher for comment on Friday, the day he published his advertisements — using Twitter since that is one of the social media platforms he elected to use [Nice touch!] — and he has not yet responded:

Request for Comment

And so, into the Personal Injury Hall of Shame I hereby induct the Fisher Injury Lawyers, based primarily in Baton Rouge, Louisiana,[Winner! Winner! We have a winner!!!] for its sterling effort to drag the legal profession down into the muck. And having the public (jurors) think even worse of us and our clients than they already do. [Aha! So that’s why you’re writing about them!]

And if they happen to be reading this [Oy vey! Are they gonna be pissed at themselves for having done this!], you guys have four things to hope for:

  1. Everyone is talking about the Super Bowl and doesn’t give a damn about this;
  2. New York’s disciplinary committees simply don’t care about enforcing the 30-day anti-solicitation Rules, and are more interested in Lady Gaga botching the lyrics of the National Anthem by swapping out “gallantly streaming” for “valiantly streaming;”
  3. This blog was so poorly written due to all the Greek Chorus nonsense, that no one took its underlying message seriously [Hey! You wanna complain, blame the casting director!]; or
  4. This blog is so poorly read by others that the issue never comes to their attention.

(hat tips to Gerry Oginiski and Samson Freundlich)

 

February 1st, 2016

What’s the Most Important Word for a Lawyer?

yes-noLast night on 60 Minutes an advocacy group presented secretly recorded video that shone a very bad light on a group of lawyers. It was a sting operation about laundering dirty money, and this gives you the gist of it:

If you like crime dramas and movies with international intrigue, then you probably have a basic understanding of money laundering. It’s how dictators, drug dealers, corrupt politicians, and other crooks avoid getting caught by transforming their ill-gotten gains into assets that appear to be legitimate.

They do it by moving the dirty money through a maze of dummy corporations and offshore bank accounts that conceal their identity and the source of the funds.

Tonight, with the help of hidden camera footage, we’re going to show you how easy it seems to have become to conceal questionable funds from law enforcement and the public.

Aside from that one exception, 12 out of the 13 law firms, including 15 out of the 16 lawyers… suggested ways that the suspicious funds could be moved into the U.S. without compromising the minister’s identity.

While some attorneys hesitated to accept the bait that was offered, among the 16 lawyers they approached, only one gave an outright “no.”

One of the lawyers was confident about not having any problems, because he said, “We run the country.”

Asset protection and creating corporate entities, of course, isn’t my lawyerly field.  But all lawyers do share one thing in common: Potentially shitty clients. There is no nice way to say it. They may approach you in a multitude of different ways, from poorly thought out cases, to outright scams, to clients that are outright psychotic.

[Addendum: I wrote about a sting operation on personal injury attorneys run out of the Manhattan DA’s office in 2007.]

And so I’m reprinting this piece from 2013, about potentially problematic clients as seen from my perspective. But it applies to all lawyers:

——————————————-

The Most Important Word

The call comes in a thousand iterations. It often looks something like this, with my quick analysis in parenthesis:

My kid was hurt on the playground. Is there anything I should do? (Parent wants to know they did everything possible for the child.)

Could my spouse’s disease have been treated earlier? (Spouse wants to know they did everything possible.)

Someone said mean things about me on the Internet that are defamatory, can you help me? (Rage, often justifiable.)

That car ran a light and almost injured me. (Almost doesn’t count.)

You know where this is going, right? Lawyers that work on contingency receive all kinds of calls; they may be from the “how much is this worth” crowd, but quite often the motivation is emotional, not financial.

The word every lawyer needs to know is this: No. Say it out loud, say it again, say it often.

Part of the reason is because taking poorly vetted cases will drive the lawyer to bankruptcy. But also important is to save the potential client from themselves. A few minutes explaining the Streisand Effect, for instance, may make perfectly clear to the potential defamation litigant why that cease and desist order may catastrophically backfire.

When the injured person is a child, saying no isn’t particularly easy. Especially when you have your own and can truly empathize. But the ill-taken case will almost always lead to disappointment, making not only your situation worse, but theirs.

Interestingly, the most common response to the the word no is gratitude. The potential litigant simply didn’t know what was involved or how things worked or called because a friend insisted, or simply needed to know that they did all they could under the circumstances. Most people are appreciative when a clear response comes back.

I’m  asked, every so often, if I could be a juror in a personal injury case.  Defendants would no doubt want to boot me from the jury ASAP assuming I would be overly sympathetic and would have a tough time saying no to an injured litigant. But that would only be because they don’t know how much experience I have at turning people away.

No is the most important word. Use it and use it often.

 

January 28th, 2016

Doctor Tries To Take Down Lawyer’s Blog Post By Filing Grievance – updated x2

Michigan attorney Steven Gursten

Michigan attorney Steven Gursten

Wow. Defense-medical exams and a defamation claim against a law blogger! Two of my favorite topics wrapped up in one ugly Michigan incident now ongoing.

Now you folks know I have a thing or two to say about doctors that do a lot of defense medical-legal exams. And you know I have a thing or two to say about BS claims of defamation, having been on the receiving end of a couple of moronic lawsuits.

Now comes before us today one Dr. Rosalind Griffin, a Michigan psychiatrist, with a different tactic: Filing a grievance against lawyer Steven Gursten for blogging about a medical-legal exam that she did on one of his clients.

Gursten was so ticked off at Dr. Griffin, that he wrote about her. Like me, he thinks that many of the doctors that make these exams a staple of their practices are doing hatchet jobs on the injured plaintiffs in order to benefit the insurance companies.

(For a comic view of how one lawyer sees it, you can view this cartoon.)

The short version of today’s story is that Gursten’s client was hit by two trucks, and he asserts that the client suffered a traumatic brain injury, broken back, and other significant injuries. Dr. Griffen then did the defense medical exam (DME) — sometimes improperly called an independent medical exam (IME) — and issued a report.

Gursten then presented evidence and asked readers to draw their own conclusions as to whether Dr. Griffen committed perjury. In fact, by the title of his posting, you can see that this invitation to readers was his explicit intention:

Heading: IME abuse? Read the transcript of Dr. Rosalind Griffin in a terrible truck accident case and decide for yourself

Subheading: How many thousands of innocent and seriously hurt people lose everything because of so-called “independent medical exams,” such as this example by Michigan psychiatrist Dr. Rosalind Griffin?

Dr. Rosalind Griffen, as seen during her video testimony in this matter.

Dr. Rosalind Griffen

He presented evidence that Dr. Griffen — who he said is “a rather notorious IME doctor here in Michigan” — was less than candid in her assessment.

Gursten asserts that this evidence disproves the doctor’s claim that the client said during the exam that his condition was improving, that the client had minor medical conditions, and despite “a closed-head injury, traumatic brain injury, abnormal memory and concentration, PTSD and a badly fractured and collapsed T12 vertebral body, as well as fractures to his mouth, shoulder and knee” that the client’s chronic pain actually came from a 30-year-old whiplash that had been asymptomatic.

This presentation of evidence, and request that readers make their own determination as to whether Dr. Griffen committed perjury, occurred Nov. 13, 2014.

Thirteen months later, Dr. Griffen filed a grievance, claiming defamation, and asking that the Committee require the lawyer to:

  • “delete his outrageous posting”; and
  • “[R]emove the link to Google results for my name.” [I didn’t make that up, I swear. — ET]
  • Punish and sanction him for putting her testimony and her conduct under oath on the internet for people to read.

Gursten wasn’t cowed by the complaint and proceeded to put it up online this week in a new posting with this heading and subheading:

Heading:  Sticks and stones and…attorney disbarment? Will the First Amendment lose out when IME doctor files grievance to conceal her testimony in injury case from the public?

Subheading:  IME doctor files grievance to suppress blog post and punish attorney for disclosing her conduct

Over the course of a very extensive follow-up posting this week, he provided many examples of differences between what the doctor claimed, and what he said actually happened. This is a sample, with much more at the original posting:

What Dr. Griffin claims James Fairley said. What James Fairley actually said.
“[A]ccording to his own statement he feels less depressed and is making progress.” (IME Report, Page 8)  “Q. What’s a good day for you? A. I don’t know. I haven’t had one lately. … I just have a profound sadness … Q. Do you think you’re depressed, sir? A. I do. … Q. Have you been tearful? A. Oh, yeah. I cry at the drop of a hat sometimes.”  (Fairley Dep., Page 58 (lines 1-2, 7), Page 61 (lines 13-14), Page 62 (lines 4-5))

In the text of the grievance, Dr. Griffen complains thusly about the original blog post:

Notably, it is the first item returned when someone uses the Google search engine on my name, thereby ensuring that it will be noted and read by individuals researching me or selecting a psychiatrist who will best meet the needs of the patient.

The problem, of course, is that Gursten merely provided the documents and video testimony, and pointed to various sections of them, while offering his opinions. He did what lawyers do: He presented evidence and asked the jury (his readers) to decide.

The doctor’s complaints that calling her “notorious,” or her exam a “hatchet job,” would be merely opinion. And opinion is not actionable under the First Amendment. It isn’t even a close call.

She also tries to make the complaint, unconvincingly I might add, that writing about her exam and testimony violates Rule 8.4 of Michigan’s rules of professional conduct which state that it is attorney misconduct to:

(c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;

(d) engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice;

Since there is nothing dishonest or fraudulent about providing evidence and asking a series of questions about where that evidence leads, I don’t see how she can possibly prevail. Nor is a public discussion of a very serious issue prejudicial to the administration of justice. In fact, a public discussion is beneficial to the administration of justice. I do it here all the time.

Why would Dr. Griffen — who happens to be a member of the very grievance committee to which she is complaining — file this?

Leaving aside the obvious possibility that she may have friends on the committee, the other possibility is that she tried mightily to find an attorney to bring a lawsuit, and that everyone told her “Are you shittin’ me?” though they may have been a tad more blunt. Then a year went by, the statute of limitations expired in Michigan, and she made this complaint feeling she had to do something.

And so she did. And now people out of state, who had never heard of her, are writing about her. Well played, doctor, well played.

(Pro tip: If you need to file a dopey defamation case, you might try Jonathan Sullivan at Ruskin Moscou Faltischek in New York. He’s the guy that brought Dr. Michael Katz’s pointless and doltish suit against me regarding an “IME” and testimony that Katz did. Who knows, maybe he wants to do it again?)

Addendum: More at Public Citizen, a small excerpt below. At the link are also case citations,  and a thorough exposition on the chilling effect that permitting such grievances has on free speech.

Griffin’s complaint amounts to a lightweight defamation claim (lightweight because most of the quoted words are either not actually about Griffin or are opinion rather than facts, because Griffin does not spell out any other allegedly defamatory words as Michigan law would require, and because she says nothing about knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard of probable falsity).  It is therefore not surprising that Griffin did not file a defamation claim within the one-year statute of limitations.  Instead, six days after the statute expired, she chose to file this bare-bones grievance complaint, hoping that paid grievance staff will conduct an investigation for her, and force Gursten to spend his time and money responding to questions from public officials about his opinions about whether and how justice is afforded to accident victims and specifically how Griffin has or has not testified unfairly or unjustly.

In discussing the Michigan’s Grievance Commission, in highly critical terms for allowing this to go forward and requiring a response from Gursten, Public Citizen’s Paul Alan Levy writes:

The Commission staff might well be hoping to exact an apology as Gursten’s price for peace, but at least so far, Gursten is not only not caving in to Griffin’s pressure, but he has called Griffin’s bluff and raised the ante.

Addendum #2: Scott Greenfield weighs in on Rosalind Griffin using a disciplinary complaint because an actual defamation case would fail, and the completely expected reaction (from anyone in the least bit savvy about the internets):

But if the lawyer disciplinary process seems like easy pickin’s to silence blawgers, the flip side is that we’re not particularly inclined to run scared, and we have this tendency not to take kindly to being extorted through the use of the grievance procedure to shut us up.

Has Dr. Rosalind Griffin ever heard of Barbra Streisand?  If she thought she had something to twist her face into a frown before, she’s really gonna hate what happens when her effort to use the disciplinary procedure to silence Gursten not only fails, but backfires big time.

 

May 15th, 2015

Chasing the Amtrak Crash

MyPhillyLawyer

Dean Weitzman from “My Philly Lawyer”

You have seen this act before, dear reader, but perhaps never so blatantly. It’s the lawyer who chases the mass disaster crash, a/k/a the ambulance chaser. It’s the lawyer that, by doing so, smears the names of all others in the lawyering profession.

Today’s story comes up because Dean Weitzman, managing partner of the Philadelphia firm Silvers, Langsam & Weitzman, decided it would be a swell idea to send out a press release to the local press letting everyone know that they would be accepting cases from the Amtrak crash. (Which is not an “accident” by the way).

He wrote, among much personal agrandizement, that is firm would be:

available to provide representation for victims and injured persons in last night’s Amtrak derailment in North Philadelphia.

Gee. Ya’ think?

And he also wrote that:

Dean Weitzman is also available to media outlets to give analysis and discuss what happens next.

The firm is, as I understand it, (in)famous for slathering Philly with its ads, using the moniker My Philly Lawyer.

It was exactly this type of grotesque chasing after cases that led New York to create its 30-day anti-solicitation rule (and I presume to a similar federal 45-day rule for airline disasters). In the immediate wake of the 2003 Staten Island Ferry disaster that killed 11, some lawyers ran to the Staten Island Advance to place ads for the next day.

But there were still bodies on the boat when many of them did that.

This type of wretched behavior has repercussions.  I see it when I step into the jury room to select, as do others in the profession.  Calling the jury pool cynicism deep would be an understatement.

If the cynicism came solely from insurance company propaganda, it would be one thing. But when the smear comes from your own ranks, then what? Then it becomes the obligation of others in the profession to express their contempt for the practice and issue a complete disavowal of the conduct.

Let there be no mistake about my position here: Dean Weitzman and the firm of Silvers, Langsam & Weitzman do a grave disservice to the cause of justice and to those who have been injured. By chasing ambulances in this fashion they perpetuate an ugly stereotype, whose ramifications are felt not only by members of the bar but more importantly by those we represent.

As I noted back in 2009 in a short analysis of anti-solicitation rules, they do work. In honor of the chasing that Weitzman is doing, it looks like time for Pennsylvania to follow suit with an amendment to its rules.

Since Dean Weitzman said he was “available to media outlets to give analysis and discuss what happens next,” I’ve sent him an email seeking comment about the appropriateness of sending out such an email within 24 hours of the crash, when all of the passengers aren’t even accounted for. If he elects to respond I may amend this post.

(Hat tip, Max Kennerly)

 

 

May 4th, 2015

Lawyers and the Press. Again

GellerLawGroupI hate to pull the stuffings out of this article from the New York Times about women lawyers trying to manage both family life and a solid law practice. It was a lovely, fluffy piece of lifestyle journalism.

The women at the Geller Law Firm, it seems, have based their practice around making sure that they don’t lose sight of the other important things in their life, also known as children.

To do this, they cut back on hours, or make them really flexible, work from home or temporary offices, and focus most of the practice on non-litigation matters such as trusts and wills and small business incorporations. And “[T]he partners limit their litigation business because court appearances and filing deadlines mean less control over their schedules.”

According to the piece:

the founding credo of which is family-friendliness and whose stance on office face time is best described as “militantly against.”

You know what? If they can figure out a way to make the model work, then more power to them. If a group of people, for example, only want to work 30 hours a week, and take home less pay and have fewer clients, no problem.

So long as the clients aren’t affected.

But the article needed a little color. Someone decided it would be nice to have an actual client involved in the cuddly, little piece.

The problem with including a client, of course, is the risk that something will be said about an actual piece of litigation, so you would expect something very benign, such as “I think they are awesome and have no problem with the limited hours and they always get back to me when I call and they are awesome, and I said awesome twice because I really, really think so.” You know, like that.

But that is not what happened, so this is where the stuffings get pulled from the sweet teddy bear of a feature piece.

This part just leaped off the page at me, as confidential communications were exposed in front of the Times reporter:

By 10 a.m. on that Wednesday in March, Ms. [Maria] Simon was seated in front of a client, formerly the president of a condominium association that was now suing him. (The client gave me permission to sit in on the meeting.)

Ms. Simon began to review each count of the civil complaint against him, MacBook open and legal pad at the ready. She had a litigator’s game face that was only occasionally undone by a wry smile she couldn’t quite suppress.

“I have to ask,” Ms. Simon said at one point. “Did you ever falsely represent yourself as an attorney?” The client explained that he had once told a local agency that he was appearing before it as an attorney but that he had meant it “in the British sense,” in that he had power of attorney. “You know you’re not supposed to say that, right?” Ms. Simon deadpanned.

“Yes, lesson learned,” he said.

For the non-lawyer readers, let me explain. What lawyers and clients say between themselves is privileged. But when a third party, unrelated to the law firm, comes into the room, the privilege evaporates. Gone. Up in smoke. At a deposition opposing counsel can ask about every single thing that was said in front of this other person.

Lawyers see this potential problem with some regularity, though not with reporters as the third wheel. Often a friend will accompany the client to the office. And when that happens, it’s the job of the lawyer to exchange pleasantries with these friends and explain to them what a privilege is, and why they can’t come into the conference room, and offer them coffee and a newspaper as they sit in the waiting room.

Why the lawyers at Geller decided it would be wise to have a confidential meeting in front of a reporter is utterly beyond me. And why the lawyer would ask in front of a reporter, “Did you ever falsely represent yourself as an attorney?” is simply bizarre.

Saying that this was not a well thought out interview from the lawyer’s perspective is, I think, a significant understatement.

This is not the first time I’ve written on this subject, where it seems that the desires of the lawyer for press have superseded the best interests of the client.

We saw this just a couple weeks ago with South Carolina attorney David Aylor, who was representing police officer Michael T. Slager, who happened to fire 8 shots toward the back of Walter Scott, killing him. Aylor didn’t just jump ship after seeing the video, but worse, told the world just hours later that he was jumping ship after seeing the video. Because apparently Aylor comes first, not the client.

And we saw this a few years back with Chicago criminal defense attorney Stuart Goldberg, who interviewed with Lindsay Lohan about representing her, and then opened up to People magazine about her “fragile” state. But confidential means confidential.

What should the Geller client expect? That his admissions in front of his lawyer may now be an issue, that everything said in front of the lawyer is no longer confidential, and that the lawyer might actually now be a witness to the admissions, and be unable to handle the matter due to a conflict.

That is one hell of a mess, if you ask me. And I don’t know how anyone can say it benefits the client.

This isn’t to say that all client interactions with the press are bad. But going into them, there must be long and thoughtful discussions about exactly what is fair game to speak about, and what isn’t, and how/why it helps the client.

I reached out yesterday by email to the lawyer involved and she did not yet get back to me.