The Ethics of Law

Copyright Troll Righthaven Obtains Licenses to Litigate

As reported by Martha Neil of the Intellectual Property Law blog section of the ABA Journal, the copyright litigation firm known as Righthaven is at it again.  Apparently, Righthaven is obtaining license agreements from copyright owners that essentially assign ownership rights to the copyrighted works to Righthaven in order to pursue copyright infringement lawsuits against alleged infringers.

Related Stories:

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Who’s on the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 Working Group on the Implications of New Technologies Seeking to Regulate the Internet?

The first thing that occurred to me is who are these people who are looking at whether to issue special rules for lawyer behavior on the Internet?  Here is the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 Working Group on the Implications of New Technologies as well as links to their web sites.

About ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20

Commission Co-Chairs:

Jamie S. Gorelick
Michael Traynor, Cobalt, LLP

Commission Members:

Stephen Gillers
Jeffrey B. Golden
George W. Jones, Jr.
Hon. Elizabeth B. Lacy
James A. Miller
Hon. Kathryn A. Oberly
Roberta Cooper Ramo
Herman J. Russomanno
Theodore J. Schneyer
Carole B. Silver
Frederic S. Ury
Hon. Gerald W. VandeWalle
Hon Diane P. Wood

Liaisons Appointed to the Commission by the ABA President:

Donald B. Hilliker
Steven C. Krane
Robert E. Lutz
Philip H. Schaefer

Commission Reporters

Andrew M. Perlman

Commission Counsel

Ellyn S. Rosen

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Is the ABA Trying to Kill Lawyer Blogs, Facebook Profiles, Twitter Updates, Forum Posts and Lawyer Websites?

My friend Larry Bodine over at the Law Marketing Blog sent this email, which I immediately found both distressing and annoying.  The American Bar Association, affectionately known as the ABA, apparently formed a working group “on the implication of new technologies.”  The ABA Commission on Ethics is currently receiving comments in order to “supplement its research” concerning the following issues:

    A.    Online Social and Professional Networking Services

            1.    Identifying the Line Between Personal Communications and Lawyer Advertising.
            2.    Inadvertent Lawyer-Client Relationships
            3.    Lawyers “Friending” Judges
            4.    Gathering Information Through Networking Websites

    B.    Blogging

    C.    “Pay-per-click” advertising

    D.    Lawyer websites

            1.    False or Misleading Statements on Websites
            2.    Inadvertent Lawyer-Client Relationships
            3.    Giving Legal Advice
            4.    Confidential Information on Websites

Related  Stories:

ABA, Social Media and a time to Panic

Should State Bars Regulate Marketing?

ABA Wants To Regulate Lawyer Online Marketing

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Is it the End for BigLaw or a Beginning for Change?

At a two-day conference hosted by the Georgetown Center for the Study of the Legal Profession called Law Firm Evolution: Brave New World or Business as Usual?, scholars, consultants, attorneys and law firms gathered together in debate and discussion over the future of BigLaw and its need for change. 

Here are a few excerpts from “Warnings Toll for BigLaw Firms Resistant to Change” by Rachel M. Zahorsky on the ABAJournal:

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Former Partner of the Greenberg Traurig Law Firm Charged with Overbilling Client

Lawyerstealing In Martha Neil's recent ABA Journal article, Mark McCombs, a former partner of the Greenberg Traurig Law firm was recently let go and brought up on criminal charges for allegedly over-billing a client in excess of $1 million.  Here are some excerpts from the article: 

Mark McCombs, 50, is accused of taking advantage of longstanding professional and personal relationships with officials in Village of Calumet Park and charging more than $1 million since 2003 for work that wasn't performed, reports the Chicago Tribune. If convicted of the felony, he could be sentenced to six to 30 years in prison.

The Northwestern University School of Law graduate is no longer listed on the firm's website, but a 2002 Greenberg Traurig press release details his background and governmental practice at the time he began working at Greenberg Traurig's office in Chicago.

His Martindale-Hubbell listing says the village honored him by designating a "Mark McCombs Drive" in recognition of his leading role in redeveloping the commercial corridor along Ashland Avenue and Vermont Street.

A Chicago Sun-Times article provides further details about the alleged overbilling scheme and how it was discovered. In addition to overbilling, it says, McCombs is accused of charging a higher-than-authorized hourly fee.

Here is the link to the full article on the ABA Journal website:  "Greenberg Traurig Partner Charged With Overbilling Client By $1M to Gain Prestige in Firm"

A Win for Attorneys Who Receive Clients from Referral Services

The Connecticut Laaw Journal reports that the Connecticut Statewide Grievance Committee has dismissed complaints against five Connecticut attorneys who have done business with Total Attorneys Inc. of Chicago.  A Norwich, Conn., bankruptcy attorney filed grievances against 12 attorneys in Connecticut and more than 550 attorneys in 47 total states claiming that attorneys participating in the Total Attorneys network are paying for referrals, which is a felony offense in this state.  Committee members would not comment on the decision until the full-length decision is released in about two weeks time.

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Is Your Blogging In Violation of the New FTC Regulations Concerning Endorsements?

I have seen a few significant changes in blogging over the years, but none that may be quite as important or wide-ranging as the new FTC regulations, 16 CFR Part 255, concerning endorsements. Effective December 1, 2009, bloggers who endorse a product or service must disclose whether they have a "material connection" to the advertiser that might affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement.  This means that bloggers that receive cash or any other payment, including free products, for their endorsement must disclose that connection.  The new regulations contain a number of examples that illustrate the various situations that may constitute a "material connection," but none of them are particularly illuminating.

The new regulations also require advertisements that convey a consumer's experience with a product or service as typical when, in reality, it is not, to disclose what the typical results would be.  Advertisers can no longer portray a result and disclaim it with fine print that says, "Results not typical."  The rules for celebrity endorsements under Part 255 have also changed.  Celebrities must disclose their connections with an advertiser and both parties can now be held liable for untruthful or misleading advertising.  Celebrities also must disclose their relationships with advertisers when they promote products outside of traditional commercials or print advertising, such as on talk shows or in interviews.Finally, if an advertisement refers to a scientific study for support, the advertiser must disclose his or her relationship to the researcher or research agency.

There are several other changes in the law that must also be complied with, as well as several new examples to illustrate the application of the pre-existing rules that have been in effect since 1980.  It is important that bloggers understand these rules and examples because they can be held liable for up to $11,000 per post for a violation.  It is a changing blogging world out there, and it seems as if the law is starting to catch up.

Judge Receives Reprimand for His Comments Made on FACEBOOK

As reported at’s Legal Blog Watch, North Carolina Judge recently received this reprimand by the state’s Judicial Standards Commission for posting and exchanging messages on Facebook with a Lawyer in a matter being tried before him. Here are some snippets from the article :

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Good News for US-based Independent Contract Lawyers and Hiring Attorneys

The American Bar Association's Ethics and Professional Responsibility Committee recently released an opinion regarding law firms using contract lawyers for various tasks.  The ABA stated that when hiring a contract attorney, the use of attorneys who have been trained in the United States is preferable.  However, if you wish to hire an attorney who is based in another country, be sure to check out the statutes in that country regarding property seizures, disclosures, and the remedies used if there is a dispute between yourself and the contract attorney.  In this age of downsizing, becoming a contract attorney might not be all bad.

Revisiting The Issue Of Why Lawyers Wear Suits

In a recent post titled “Why Do Lawyers Wear Suits”, we playfully explored the idea of the importance – or lack thereof – of a suit and tie for legal professionals.  The post drew some interesting commentary warranting a re-posting of the article here!

Are suits just another example of “form over substance” for lawyers and law firms?  I haven’t worn a suit in five years, except to court.  I deal with very powerful and important clients, as well as average business people and layman.  Clients feel more comfortable when they’re not sitting across from a stuffed suit.  No client has ever been taken aback by the fact that I wasn’t wearing a suit.  In fact, more often than not, neither were they. 

The concept that lawyers need to wear suits to meet their client’s expectations is ridiculous in most instances.  Clients aren’t that stupid.  They want good lawyers and good results.  They don’t care if their legal professional is wearing nothing but underwear while they accomplish those results.