Living large and getting paid to shower
By Thomas Van Flein
Most of you know that I receive a substantial stipend as the Bar Rag editor, in addition to a 20 x 20 office, a leased Ford Excursion and a fully stocked wet bar for the many social occasions we host at the Bar Rag.
You may not know, however, that I am often plied with gifts from various publishing companies, all seeking a kind word and a good review of their latest book. Marketing wise, a favorable Bar Rag review can make or break a newly released book. According to a National Publishers' evaluation and ranking survey completed last year, the Bar Rag ranks fifth nationally in prestige and influence for book reviews, right after the New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's and the New Yorker.
Because I have accepted a variety of gifts from publishers, including a golf tour of Ireland, a 'Walking Tour of Hemingway's Cuba,' and two oak barrels of wine from Bordeaux, France, I feel a little guilty not having reviewed the many books submitted to us. So, to relieve this guilt, and to accept any future offerings with an open heart, here are my thoughts.
The first book is called 'Teach Me to Solo... The Nuts and Bolts of Law Practice,' written by Hal Davis (Anchovy Press). Mr. Davis starts us off with a dose of reality: 'Law practice is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Anyone who decides to start and run a law practice must expect to invest a lot of time and effort into it.' Now he tells us. Where was he when we were filling out law school applications? Chapter two discusses the benefits of multi-level marketing instead of practicing law, for those who want to try a 'get rich quick scheme.'
Actually, Mr. Davis has put together a fine resource for anyone considering a solo practice. Everything from where to practice, to staffing, to computerization is discussed. He notes that 'at no time in history has it been as easy to practice law without a secretary as it is now,' and I think he has a good point. For anyone willing to learn to use voice mail and type (or use voice recognition software), the need for a secretary is greatly reduced, thus allowing one to practice law with substantially lower overhead.
Mr. Davis includes some very practical tips and I believe this book would be helpful to anyone who wants to go solo but who has not practiced law at least five years. His chapters on computers and software are particularly well done. This book received 4.5 stars on Amazon.com and at the time of this writing, ranks 35,496th in sales through Amazon.com. Because of the power of the Bar Rag, I expect the ranking will increase to 35,493 after this review. We will keep you posted.
The next book is called 'The Moral Compass of the American Lawyer: Truth, Justice, Power and Greed.' (Ballantine). This may sound like a primer to obtain power and be greedy, but authors Richard Zitrin and Carol Langford, both law professors and practicing attorneys, take issue with unethical practices, unjust billings and dishonesty veiled as zealous client representation.
This is an interesting read. In case the publisher wants to quote me, let me say it this way: 'Powerful. Moving. If you think you can't handle the truth, don't read this damning expose.' These authors have taken the time to illustrate their points with cases, for example, laying heavy criticism against a large Seattle firm for the discovery abuse exposed in Washington State Physicians Ins. Exchange and Ass'n v. Fisons Corp., 858 P.2d 1054 (1993), where firm lawyers allegedly withheld two incriminating documents. After the firm paid $325,000 and issued a public apology, the authors point out that just two years later lawyers at the same firm were again sanctioned for engaging in 'lawyer hokum' (Judge Bryan's words) for not responding forthrightly to document requests.
These authors posit that the 'repeat performance' occurred because the firm 'almost got away with it' and they ask how many other times such abuse occurred that were never uncovered.
The authors request more stringent court involvement and more frequent use of issue sanctions rather than monetary sanctions since 'monetary sanctions even in the hundreds of thousands of dollars are too often seen by powerful firms and their clients as simply the cost of doing business, even when that business is shady and unethical.'
The book does not focus on just that firm, but it discusses many other firms and lawyers whom the authors criticize, and tactics such as SLAPP suits. The book takes issue with how one firm trained its associates to bill. The authors write that a senior associate at one firm instructed the new associate to bill when 'standing in the shower thinking about' the case and record it as 'evaluating trial tactics.'
The authors question whether lawyers should necessarily accept representation of companies that may have acted reprehensibly, and they praised one D.C. firm for refusing to represent a European insurer that had refused to pay policy claims to Holocaust victims.
The authors note that a firm develops a culture that permeates its decisions. They write that 'a firm shows its culture and values by how it behaves both in public and behind closed doors. What the firm's partner's say, and how they act... how the partners approach their clientele, whom they are willing to accept as clients when a lot of money is at stake, and how far they are willing to go to zealously represent their client' define the firm culture.
You may not, of course, agree with all of their points, but the authors stimulate thought and you may reflect more closely on our profession after reading this. Their goal is to elevate our profession to do what is right and go beyond a simple ethics analysis. (Perhaps their next effort will be directed at large accounting firms who 'consult' with energy trading companies). For that reason alone this is worth reading. It certainly made me think as I filled out the questionnaire for another publisher that was sponsoring a Caribbean cruise for legal journal editors entitled 'The Ethics of Book Reviews: Five Days In The Sun.'