This post deals with a recent lawsuit filed against GAL by his former firm over ethical conduct by that firm. One of the problems with allowing attorney grievance commissions to set the bar for lawyer conduct is that very few of the numerous ethical violations, which occur everyday, find their way to the grievance commission. Lawyers are extremely hesitant to report other lawyers for the behavior they see day in and day out, especially in a smaller or medium sized town. You see these same lawyers again and again over the course of your entire career.
The bad lawyers seek to protect their unethical ways, which can’t be explained away by "aggressive representation of the client." As a partner at an old firm, I once had the managing partner continually berate me that I wasn’t billing aggressively on a file that was about to settle. The client had taken charge of the matter and was engaging in one-on-one settlement negotiations with the CEO for the defendant. It was clear for about two months that the matter was going away and that it would be quickly resolved. There is little question that generating billing events simply to trump up fees prior to the conclusion of a case is an ethical violation. Did I report the managing partner of my own firm? No. Should I have? Yes. But the practical reality of the situation precluded me from doing much at all. Of course, I simply nodded my head when he requested updates on our efforts to generate fees, and did nothing to follow up on his repeated demands. When he went to the paralegal to see what billing was being generated, the paralegal came to me and asked what the heck was going on. Together, we ignored the request, the matter concluded, and no trumped up fees were included in the final bill. These types of things go on all the time in law firms across the United States. But I ask again, what can be done given the practical limitations of our system?
Mike at the Crime & Federalism blog makes a great point. He says, "You need to shine the light on these unethical-no, cruel and vicious- lawyers. If you say nothing, then others will be harmed by them. Unethical lawyers will always prosper when good lawyers say nothing." There is little doubt that the bad lawyers control the game at this point in time. If we do want to take back our profession from those whose greed and self-interest dominates the halls of justice, then we must decide to take a stand. The reality is that there is no other way. Average citizens filing grievances against lawyers have had little effect. Judges rarely grieve lawyers. We must commence a strong and vigorous dialog about legal ethics. We must send a message that clients must come first and ensure that message is permeated in the culture of our law firms. We must shun and shine the spotlight on law firms which habitually abuse their clients and the system to their own economic advantage.
I came out of retirement after being completely disenchanted with the legal profession. I came back to change the way law is practiced. It is not lost on me that in addition to doing it right, I must point out when others are doing it wrong.