January 12th, 2018

Phony Lawyer Awards

Last week Mockingbird Marketing made an announcement: That Lucy Davis had become a Lawyer of Distinction. Hey! I’ve received those offers too!

The problem? Lucy isn’t a lawyer. Lucy is a dog. The four-legged woof-woof kind.

Mockingbird (which builds websites for lawyers) put up its satirical posting to show the worthlessness of many  lawyer “awards” — they put in an application for their dog and it was accepted.

To practicing attorneys, this comes as no surprise. We are besieged by such companies doling out awards like fun-sized Halloween candy, with of course, a nice fancy plaque to hang in your office. Or maybe a crystal “trophy.” No, they aren’t free.

And that’s pretty much how it’s easy to figure out the difference between a phony award and a real one: Did the lawyer pay for the “honor?”

To my knowledge, these are all private companies that are unaffiliated with any recognized bar association.

I wrote about one such company a few years ago, marketing the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. I wasn’t particularly nice about it.

So, below are some of the groups/companies that have “invited” me in the past couple years aside from Lawyers of Distinction, as I tossed their literature marketing materials into a pile in a corner of my office. And no, I will not give them links — you can demonstrate your own Google-fu by researching if you like:

First up, simply because it’s on top of the pile, is America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators. The annual membership is $300. Nice badge they give you, huh?

Next up is the American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys  — “10 Best Attorney” for New York. It’s $295 for the 2018, as per its website. And I love the disclaimer on their About Us page regarding warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. Nice plaque.

Then there is Corporate Vision, which “selected” me for its 2017 Legal Excellence Awards as “Best Law Firm 2017.” This comes with a pitch to be in Corporate Vision, whatever that is, along with profiles, interviews, a nice crystal trophy, digital logos, etc. The price wasn’t in the pitch, but this sure as hell didn’t look like a non-profit.

I was also “selected” as of one of AI Magazine‘s “One to Watch in Law.” Woo-hoo. It comes with a “bespoke crystal trophy” and digital winner’s logo. Never mind that my practice has nothing to do with artificial intelligence. All for just £185. You read that right. That is British pounds. No, I’m not admitted to practice law in Great Britain.

Next up, the American Society of Legal Advocates. Sounds impressive! And I was selected as eligible for the Top 100 Litigation lawyers in New York!  (What, no top 10?). It comes with a plaque and an electronic badge. All for just $200 each year.

Rue Rawlings’ Best Attorneys of America — Limited to the Top 100 attorneys in New York. The dues are $1,000.

National Association of Distinguished Counsel — Top One Percent. Annual membership is $300.

Trial Lawyers Board of Regents Litigator Awards — The fee is $1,500 if they “certify” you for inclusion. I confess to being a bit uneasy putting this company on the same list, as its marketing materials are very impressive and they ask for certification of certain verdicts and settlements. Nevertheless, if there is a fee to join, that makes it a club with a name, and not (to me) an actual award. Awards don’t have strings attached.

Some folks may ask about SuperLawyers, which I’ve written about before. I remain unclear how valuable that honor is, and while it isn’t a non-profit for sure (sold to Thomson West in 2010)  at least they’ve never demanded a fee to be listed.

Finally, there is the never-ending solicitations from plaque companies, looking to assist you in making your award look nice and fancy on your ego wall. (For what it’s worth, my office wall is mostly family pics.)

Bottom line for the consumer: There are a lot of companies out there hustling “awards” designed to make lawyers look good to potential clients with fancy badges, plaques and crystal trophies.

Don’t be razzle-dazzled. You’ve been warned.

 

 

March 28th, 2017

Jacoby & Meyers Goes Down Bigly

Jacoby & Meyers had an idea. If only they could get non-lawyers to put money into its firm for a share of the profits, they could fund expansion. The only itty, bitty problem with that is that it’s ethically impermissible to share legal fees with non-lawyers.

So it brought suit back in 2011, trying to claim its rights were violated. And worse yet, to me, tried to claim it was doing so on my behalf, when they wrote that suit was being brought:

“…on behalf of itself and all others authorized to practice law in the State of New York…”

Blech. Non-attorneys owning a share of law firms is an awful idea, and one that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals shot down last week. The firm tried to lawyer its way around the ethical prohibition by claiming it was a First Amendment violation of its right to freely associate. The problem, of course, is that the right to associate with a lawyer belongs to the client, not to the lawyer trying to finance business expansion.

As Scott Greenfield notes, it wasn’t always this way. It started, sort of, as the People’s Express of law firms:

When Jacoby & Meyers began, it was supposed to be the People’s law firm, solid lawyering at prices regular folks could afford. Some wags might argue that this was merely a marketing stance, as they wanted money as much as any other law firm. When they didn’t get it, they pivoted to a personal injury firm.

The firm having pivoted to personal injury, I’ll rehash what I’ve said before about non-lawyers owning any portion of a firm:  It is an invitation to ambulance chasing. The non-lawyers simply skirt the ethics rules to which they are not accountable, and impermissibly hustle business. The concepts of ownership, solicitation and marketing all become fused into one unaccountable mess.

And what will the lawyers say when the non-lawyers gets found chasing? They would no doubt profess shock (shock!) that such activities were going on under their roof.  “We’re so sorry!  We had no idea!!”

Let’s hope this miserable idea is finally put to bed, for the surest way to degrade the practice of law and diminish the residual respect we still have in some quarters is to introduce non-lawyers into the mix.

 

 

February 17th, 2016

Unicorn Sighting in New York

three unicornsGuest Blog by Mike Greenspan
———————–

Another day, another scam. This time it deals with three unicorns.

Frankly, it’s hard enough to be a plaintiff’s personal injury law practitioner fending off the relentless efforts of the “tort reform” movement, the cynicism of juries and the saturation of the market with attorneys. So when lawyers have to face competition from runners; ambulance chasers  and the like, you can understand why so many of us are stressed out.

Today, we bring you our latest entry into our Hall of Shame, a trio of actual unicorns -Jose, Lisa, Mark, Marie and the rest of the gang over at Personalinjuryattorneyrocklandcounty.com.  No, we won’t give this a link.

What? You’ve never heard of them? Funny that you should mention it, because neither had we.

Imagine that you were injured and you were looking for a well qualified attorney based in Rockland County, New York to sue the company you thought responsible. A quick Google search for a personal injury attorney in Rockland County brings up a number of results that unsurprisingly includes personalinjuryattorneyrocklandcounty.com because of the matching keywords.

You click on the site and see a banner inviting you to “Discuss your criminal defense and personal injury legal matters with skilled, experienced lawyers.” What follows is a seemingly impressive lineup of attorneys: Partners Jose Anderson, Lisa Wilson and Mark Thomas have each been practicing for over forty years.

Jose’s biography tells us that he has “ recovered tens of millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for victims of personal injuries.”  (How exactly does one become a “victim of personal injuries?”)

Glowing testimonials appear on the site such as this gem

From my initial contact with Lisa, I immediately develop huge respect for her. She was explicit with her information, as direct as can be. She explained what you would be up against, what to expect and what not to look out for.

With credentials and testimonials like those, you’d think that the seriously injured in that area would be jumping out of their hospital beds to call and get an appointment with these folks. There are even two offices to contact in case you wanted to do just that.

So what is the issue? Well, there a just a few wee problems that we thought to highlight:

1. New York Law prohibits attorneys from practicing under a trade name.

Yeah it is a bummer that lawyers cannot advertize under a trade name in New York like they do in other states such as Arizona, Florida or Louisiana so you won’t find kickasslawyers.com or “TheArizonaDUITeam” here in the Empire State (Rules of Professional Conduct 7.1 ). So right away, we have an issue with Jose and his buddies doing so in our neck of the woods.

2. New York law prohibits the portrayal of a fictitious law firm. 

That big, fat, no no is right there in black and white in RPC 7.1(c)(2). This so called law firm is fictitious, because….

3. These “attorneys” aren’t licensed in New York.

Really? After all Jose supposedly graduated St. John’s Law in ‘71 and claims to be admitted to practice in New York since ‘72 and has even made it all of the way up to the Supreme Court!

Sadly, this is news to the Office of Court Administration who has no record of an attorney by the name of Jose Anderson nor is there a record of a Lisa Wilson, or a Mark Thomas being admitted to practice in New York – ever. Run a search yourselfand see. We do recall learning about something known as the unauthorized practice of law and how that is generally frowned upon by the authorities. This sure looks like the unauthorized practice of law to us.

When we said unicorns we weren’t kidding — these attorneys simply don’t seem to exist.

100% authentic unicorn poop

100% authentic unicorn poop

4. The registrant of the domain name is hidden

Yeah, that is another problem here because if you have a website in New York, the information is supposed to contain some important information and hiding the owner of the site is prohibited. That hasn’t seemed to bother Lisa and Jose (perhaps Mark, but who knows?). A search on whois.com reveals that the registrant used a service -whoisproof LLP to register the name anonymously. Now why would they do that? Hmm

5. The Phone Numbers go right to voice mail.

Try it for yourself. Call the New City number (845) 335-4345 or the Spring Valley number (845) 520-5075. See if you can in to see one of the trio grande of “ skilled and experienced attorneys .”

So somebody has taken a lot of time and effort creating and editing a website devoted to attracting potential personal injury clients while disguising their true identities. We say editing , because the website has undergone revisions since the summer of 2015 when it blatantly copied sections of text from legitimate websites of New York City area law firms and placed that text in its practice areas. That text and those references are no longer present on the site.

We sure would like to find out…

  • Who is returning the phone calls left on the website’s two phone numbers?
  • Is there someone who goes out and meets with the unsuspecting people who call looking for a lawyer?
  • What lawyer or law firm is signing up these people and undertaking to represent them in court?

 

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)

 

 

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?