Tagged: Legal Profession

Making a Mockery

As our first bureau chief, a wise and gifted man, would often say to us: “Oy.” Last Friday, we blogged about how this Rakofsky fellow had done something very foolish.  After being reported to have done some pretty bad lawyering, and being roundly disparaged by the blawgosphere as a result,...

Feeling Left Out

You’ve probably heard, by now, of this Joseph Rakofsky kid.  You know the one — the newly-licensed lawyer who took on a murder trial without any trial experience, who is alleged to have told his investigator to “trick” an eyewitness into denying having seen anything, and whose performance was so...

QFT

We have some strong feelings on the nature of the law as a profession.  And by “profession,” we don’t mean the colloquial usage of “job description.”  We’re talking about the concept of a calling — a calling to the service of others where one’s own personal interest must be secondary...

Online Advice

We’ll admit to a guilty pleasure.  Sometimes we surf over to Avvo and check out the questions people are asking criminal lawyers here in NY, and the answers various lawyers are providing.  It can be cringe-worthy, but once in a while it can be instructive. We cringe when people ask...

Why Become a Lawyer?

In today’s environment, where law schools are churning out way more lawyers than the market really wants, plenty of law students and recent grads are wondering if it’s really worth it. We’re asked this question, in various forms, all the time.  And we see it asked every day on various...

All the Wrong Reasons

  So we’ve been hearing about this new blog, “UnemployedJD.com,” where some guy named Ethan is documenting his hunger strike “to bring awareness to the concerns of [his] classmates. Their primary concerns are inaccurate employment statistics, ineffective career counseling, and rising tuition costs. [His] intention is to have these concerns...

Don’t Abolish the Bar Exam — Change It

Over on the Volokh Conspiracy, Prof. Ilya Somin has a good post today on whether the bar exam ought to be abolished.  He agrees with Elizabeth Wurtzel that the exam “is primarily a test of memorization,” the bulk of which will be irrelevant to any given lawyer’s actual practice.  We...

New Trend: Lawyers as White-Collar Defendants

What’s with all the lawyers getting arrested these days, being charged with financial frauds, Ponzi schemes and the like? Is this a new trend? It sure seems like one.

The latest news is the announcement about an hour ago that the SDNY is charging one Kenneth Starr (no, not that one, this one), money manager for a bunch of celebrities, with yet another Ponzi scheme, funnelling $30 million of investors’ money into his own pockets. He’s a lawyer in New York. (You can read the complaint here.)

Then there’s the former law firm partner Michael Margulies, charged the other day with embezzling $2 million from his firm and clients in Minneapolis over the past 16 years. Coincidentally-named lawyer James Margulies of Cleveland was charged the other day in a $60 million stock swindle. A couple of weeks ago, two lawyers were charged with a mortgage-rescue fraud involving stripping $3 million in equity. A lawyer went to prison a little before that for rigging tax-lien auctions.

That’s just a handful of headlines from this month alone. But it’s been going on for several months now. We’ve been noticing lawyers getting charged with increasing frequency ever since last July when Marc Dreier got sentenced to 20 years for hedge fund swindles totaling God knows how many hundreds of millions of dollars. It really kicked into high gear, however, in December, after Scott Rothstein was arrested for a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme. And now there are several cases being announced every month.

What’s going on here?

Sure, these kinds of schemes tend to get noticed all at once, when the economy goes south, and the market’s gains no longer mask the fraud. So we’re not wondering why all of a sudden there’s a bunch of financial-fraud arrests. Our question is how come so many of these cases involve lawyers.

Has the profession changed? Is it something new about how lawyers are getting more involved as investment managers and financial advisors? Or is there a new focus by law enforcement? We really don’t know.

But it sure looks like something’s going on out there. What do you think?

The System is Broken: NY Ct. of Appeals Allows Class Action over Indigent Counsel Failings

Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963) guarantees that criminal defendants who cannot afford a lawyer must be provided one by the state. In a groundbreaking decision today, New York’s highest court ruled that “serious questions have arisen in this and other jurisdictions as to whether Gideon‘s mandate is being met in practice.” And these questions are significant enough to warrant a class action against the State of New York by criminal defendants left to suffer the consequences.

In a lengthy opinion (viewable here), Chief Judge Lippman goes out of his way to point out that this is not a Strickland issue about whether defendants are getting ineffective assistance of counsel. The issue is whether the state is denying them counsel, period.

In order to allow the class action to go forward, the court had to find that there’s a basis for that suit, that looked at in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs they actually have a case. So what did the court see here?

Judges are deciding who is or is not “indigent” for the purposes of assigning counsel, and there are no standards for that determination. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. There’s no consistency. People who perhaps should be getting a public defender wind up never getting a lawyer at all. There’s a huge Due Process and Equal Protection violation right here.

Defendants are arraigned without having a lawyer present. Bail gets set in amounts they could never afford. And they wind up languishing in jail without representation, even for minor offenses. They lose their jobs in the meantime, and lose their homes when they can’t pay the rent, and their families suffer enormously.

Defendants appear in significant court appearances without counsel. They enter into pleas without a lawyer. This despite the clear language of CPL 180.10(5) forbidding a court from proceeding without counsel, unless the defendant has knowingly agreed to it.

In instances where lawyers do get appointed, they’re incompetent. They don’t confer with their clients. They don’t learn the case. There’s a different lawyer at each proceeding, just as unfamiliar with the case as the previous one. They don’t respond to client inquiries however urgent. They either miss court appearances, or if they do appear they’re unprepared to proceed.

The appointed lawyers waive important rights, without first conferring with their clients and getting authorization. They make “virtually no efforts on their nominal clients’ behalf,” as the opinion puts it.

“Actual representation assumes a certain basic representational relationship.” The facts here show the opposite, that there are “serious questions as to whether any such relationship may be really said to have existed.” In other words, counsel may have been appointed, but there was never any real attorney-client relationship. This is not ineffective representation — it is the absence of representation.

News Flash: Clients Value Trust More Than Ability

Scott Greenfield has an intriguing discussion about how clients and lawyers often have very different ideas about what makes a good lawyer. “Crappy lawyers,” it seems, will still have “happy clients” when the clients can’t tell the difference between “likeable” and “competent.” But “likeable vs. competent” is a false choice. Really, clients are looking for something else…

Billable Hours vs. Flat Fees

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an article on how companies are starting to insist on flat fees for legal services. In the economic recession, companies are starting to complain that lawyers billing by the hour (or the tenth of the hour) only creates incentives for those lawyers to work inefficiently...

Is the Law “Elitist?” Of Course It Is. So?

  Over at the WSJ’s Law Blog, Ashby Jones has posted an interesting piece called “Is Law an ‘Elitist’ Profession? Discuss.” Ashby saw an article on “The Lawyer,” a British website, reporting that there is little social mobility of lower classes into the legal profession. And he wonders if we...