May 15th, 2015

Chasing the Amtrak Crash


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)



November 18th, 2013

Abe Lincoln, Jack Kennedy and Lawyering

Abraham-Lincoln-Trial-LawyerThis is a big week for anniversaries. On Friday it is 50 years since John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. And tomorrow is 150 years since Abraham Lincoln delivered his two-minute long Gettysburg address, in a scant 270 words or so, which I wrote about three years ago.

Lincoln left behind on that Gettysburg battlefield some of the most memorable language that we have regarding the future of our democracy, “whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.” He thought it important for the nation to resolve  “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

On the day Lincoln spoke for just a few minutes, so too did Edward Everett a noted politician of the day. He spoke for over two hours. Nobody quotes Everett.

One thing that Lincoln and Kennedy both left behind was the simple power of their words, in that they were able to enrich broader concepts. A simple search of quotes on Kennedy turns up these well-known words, and much more:

  • My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
  • Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.
  • Things do not happen. Things are made to happen.
  • Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.

This leaves us with a few questions:

  1. What words are you using to communicate, and how many do you really need?
  2. What are you doing today that will cause people to remember you after you’re gone?
  3. What are other people doing in your name?


November 12th, 2013

Running, Lawyering and The Great Stage

Collins-Stops-843x1024I’m going to weave together six different stories today, some dealing with running, some with lawyering, but all leading to the same place. Trust me on this, I have a point to make.

We start on October 6th at the finish line of the Paine to Pain Trail Half Marathon, where Matt Collins — a person you’ve never heard of, and in a story that’s never appeared anyplace but a blog —  stopped dead in his tracks just steps from the finish line. And he waited for #2 and #3 to pass him before he walked across the finish line. It seemed that the guy who ultimately won had taken a wrong turn in the woods and was followed by #2. Collins was 3rd at the time, called them back as he took the lead, and then waited at the finish for the other guys to finish ahead of him.

On a very popular running forum, Collins was excoriated by some for not having grabbed first place. But this is not a race with a cash prize; people run for fun, health and personal glory. He didn’t feel like he deserved it as he wasn’t the fastest runner that day, and that was good enough for him. While the stage was rather small given the number of onlookers, a few people appreciated this act of extraordinary sportsmanship.

Move on to story 2 and the NYC Marathon — a vastly bigger stage — and another runner you’ve have never heard of, Mike Cassidy. He’s what we call a “sub-elite.” He’ll blow the socks off you in any regional race, but isn’t Olympic caliber. He’s not the guy who gets the sponsorships. That would be a guy like his hero, Meb Keflezighi  – 2004 Olympic silver medalist and 2009 winner of the NYC Marathon.

Meb — he’s always just Meb — was having an off day due to a series of injuries.  And when elite athletes have an off day they usually just drop out so that they can come back sooner in another race and not risk further injury. But Meb kept going.  And Cassidy caught up to his hero three miles before the dramatic Central Park finish.

Cassidy-KeflezighiR-NYCmar13Look at the picture to your left. As Cassidy recounts in extraordinary race report:

This is the type of moment you only dream about. The scene had played out in my mind countless times before: me, having the race of my life, gracefully passing Meb in Central Park en route to a stunning victory. It’s one of those wild fantasies that get you through the solitary 7 am 10 milers.

As I eased up on his shoulder, I looked over and said, “Let’s go Meb.”

He responded, promptly picking up his pace and we entered Central Park at 90th Street, shoulder to shoulder. The next three miles were the most surreal I have ever experienced.  “Let’s finish this together,” he said.

In recounting the experience of running with Meb through the closing miles, jammed with screaming fans, he said:

It was like getting to play basketball with Michael Jordan. Only it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals and he had just passed me the ball.

Why did Meb keep going?  Once more from Cassidy’s amazing write-up:

It was readily apparent that all the stories I’d heard about Meb’s remarkable attitude were true.

As we entered Central Park at Columbus Circle, I turned to Meb and told him as much. “It’s an honor to run with you,” I said.

His response is something I’ll never forget.

“No,” he said. “Today is not about us. It’s about representing New York. It’s about representing Boston. It’s about representing the USA and doing something positive for our sport. We will finish this race holding hands.”

Meb knew. People were watching.

Now story 3, we turn to lawyering and back to the smaller stage. Last week I wrote about the death of the anonymous Editor of Blawg Review, who everyone knew simply as Ed. Ed. worked behind the scenes. He was known, at least in this digital incarnation, only to a group of law bloggers and some of their readers. But he influenced us and how we wrote, and created a forum in which to celebrate quality, and not the marketing pablum that some try to pass off as blogging. Ed. was respected for what he was doing in his Blawg Review project, as is evident from all the stories posthumously written about him. People were watching.

Now story 4: I wrote in unflattering terms the other day about the tactics a lawyer used when suing Red Bull for $85M, in a case dealing with the death of someone that drank the stuff while playing basketball. I was less than charmed about his decision to place a monetary amount in the complaint when that tactic is not permitted in New York. The headlines all dealt with the money, instead of dealing with the safety of the product. And when we talk about newspaper headlines, we are most assuredly back on the big stage. People were watching.

Child's eyesStory 5: It came across social media like so many other viral videos do, this one dealing with how children reacted to same-sex marriage, by having them watch various same-sex marriage proposals. Everyone wanted to see how kids react. It’s been viewed, so far, over seven million times.

But if you thought about it, it wasn’t really about the kids. It was about the parents, because kids mostly just mirror what the parental units do and say. If kids are accepting, you can bet the parents are also. If a kid is a raging bigot — regardless of whether it’s about sexual orientation, race or religion — you can place a pretty good bet where it came from. The stage inside your home is as small as it gets. But the kids are watching.

Story 6: I tried a case in September, and every so often a lawyer or two would filter in and out of the courtroom on unrelated business. Last week I got a call from one of them who’d seen one particular cross-exam, and he wanted a copy of the transcript to use to teach a class of students. An audience of one just grew. Someone was watching, other than those required to do so.

The Point: We don’t always know how big our audience is: It may be a few people standing around a finish line, or jammed sidewalks and national television for the  NYC Marathon, or newspaper readers or “just” our kids. But people are always watching and listening (and I don’t just mean the NSA — “the only part of government that actually listens“).

When I select juries, I know that whatever opinions the 30 people sitting in the room  are going to form about lawyers will be directly impacted by the few things they hear from us. In doing so, I am always confronted by the entrenched attitudes some folks have because of the conduct of lawyers and news stories that came before.

We cannot view our conduct in isolation as it oft times impacts others.

This is something to think about with each bit of marketing a lawyer does, with every interaction with a client or potential client, and any interaction with the press. People are watching. And listening. And it matters.


October 14th, 2013

“We Help You Publish Content”

ContentDear Marketeers:

The word you use is like nails on a chalkboard: Content.

You send me emails by the bushelful, you even call me, everyone wanting to provide “content.”

Content is another word for crap. Dreck. Nonsense. A keyword stuffed, Google-friendly, collection of words thrown down on paper. When the messages come by email, even the sales pitch is poorly written.

So to all you “content” publishers out there let me say this:

I do not create content. My words are not some generic commodity.

I report news. I offer opinions. I laud and and I criticize. I may do it well or I may do it poorly.

But it is unique. It has a point of view. Regardless of whether it’s good or awful, it isn’t some generic piece of commoditized “content.” My words are a part of me.

I am not interested in your “content,” because as soon as you use the word I know that you don’t know jack about my blog, or about me. You’ve sent me a form letter.

The same pitch might be made to a doctor, a rocket scientist or a quirky sanitation blog. Why anyone would trust you to write something when you’re too lazy to even read the existing forum is utterly beyond me. But I guess there are plenty of suckers out there, allowing the likes of you to write crap for them. Or perhaps, there are just many desperate pseudo-writers who think peddling crap is the way to make a living.

Let me be clear about this: I am not interested in your “content.” Not in reading it, not in publishing it, not even in considering it. Because I already know from your use of the word “content” in your pitch to me that it’s going to suck. Big time.

Affectionately yours,



June 28th, 2013

ABA Drops The Ball On Attorney Marketing

ABAJournalLogoThis post is about some lousy advice given by the ABA Journal regarding legal marketing, some of which may actually be an ethical violation in New York.

I have something to add to the skewering of the ABAJournal article done by Ken @ Popehat, but go read that first and then return: Plumbing The Depths of Legal Marketing: What Does the ABA Think You Should Do To Get Clients?

Welcome back. Before going on, let me agree with Ken and say that not all of the advice is bad. As per the ABA advice on how to market, for instance, this is good:

11.) Don’t adopt a false marketing persona. Be yourself, and figure out the best way to present yourself in a way you find appealing.

OK, I like that, and it fits with ways that I market.

But this is one thing that Ken discussed about that article where he missed a critical point, and it’s important because it actually may be an ethical violation depending on your jurisdiction:

13.) Providing they label it attorney advertising, personal injury lawyers may send ad letters to accident victims.

Blech. Lets leave out, for a moment, that this is degrading to the profession as Ken notes, and makes all lawyers look like Sunday morning whores, even if we don’t conduct ourselves in such horrid fashion. But in New York, this might actually be an ethical violation as it could violate our 30-day anti-solictitation rule. See, for example, NY Lawyer Solicits Snowbound Subway Victims (Does He Violate Ethics Rules?)

This is Rule 4.5:

No solicitation relating to a specific incident involving potential claims for personal injury or wrongful death shall be disseminated before the 30th day after the date of the incident, unless a filing must be made within 30 days of the incident as a legal prerequisite to the particular claim, in which case no unsolicited communication shall be made before the 15th day after the date of the incident.

So part of the ABA advice could actually lead to an ethical violation depending on when it is sent. Shouldn’t that article have been peer-reviewed before publication?

But there is another downside to doing this, even if it might fall on the correct side of many/most codes of professional conduct.

You see, some lawyers have blogs, and I don’t mean the kind that are designed for search engines to read, but the kind that humans like to read. And some of those same lawyer-bloggers like to call out others for scummy conduct, even if it might appear to be on the correct side of the code of professional responsibility.

You shouldn’t assume that, merely because something might be legal, someone else might not take offense and decide to call you a scumbag for having done it.  I could use a more polite word than scumbag, but the critic writing about you might not, so you might as well deal with that fact now and consider the consequences.

And that lawyer-blogger might do it with your name in the very Google-friendly headline and url, like this.

You know why I do it? When people in my niche go to pick juries, we don’t like it when jurors look down their noses at us and our clients during jury selection. When jurors dislike us, the scales of justice are imbalanced before we even start the trial.

So if you do something scummy that tarnishes the reputations of lawyers, I have no problem flaying you alive.

The ABA article says has this pearl of wisdom:

33.) Never criticize a company by name in a blog post. You never know when that company might be in a position to hire you.

And guess what? Some of us don’t give a damn about that, and we aren’t interested in our blogs being bland bits of pablum. See, for example, the heading on this post that you are now reading, as well as a few others:

Are FindLaw’s “Blogs” Tainting Its Clients, Commentators and the Profession of Law?

Martindale-Hubbell: Now Sending Comment Spam? (How Does That Rate?)

Shpoonkle – A Lousy Idea for Lawyers and Clients

FuneralHomes.Com Digs Down Deep For Personal Injury Lawyers

Yodle and Attorney Advertising

Dropping comment spam, for example, might be legal. But look at the list of bloggers in this post who are more than happy to call you out on it.

It’s worth noting, by the way, that writing posts like those — the kind that the ABAJournal says not to write that criticize companies — are part of what put me in the ABAJournal Blawg 100 for the last five years and into its Hall of Fame. Ironic, no?

Marketeers beware. You’ve been warned. Yet again.