Monday, February 28, 2011

Corporate Sharks and Puffer Fish.

Practitioners Who Practice Puffery:  As a young legal apprentice, I would often shadow the managing partner to various hearings and other legal going-ons.  I recall one occasion where I accompanied my mentor to a deposition at a high rise office building in downtown Hartford.  Entering the imposing granite  edifice, we took an elevator up to the elegant offices of opposing counsel.  Reading the attorney's slick website beforehand, I learned that "Fink" & Associates had multiple offices in various states, a gaggle of attorneys on staff, and that the "managing partner" was an acclaimed author of a law book.  I was naively impressed.  "We're screwed" I thought.

I remember turning to my mentor to ask him how he would be able to defeat such a formidable opponent.  After all,  he had a monogrammed shirt and cuff links.  My mentor smiled. "You'll learn some attorneys tend to puff out their chests. This guy is nothing special."  I soon learned the truth in his words.  The attorney was a solo practitioner renting a flex time office. The boastful barrister   shared his office space with several non affiliated attorneys.  In reality he only had one room a few days a week.  The "associates" in his firm were "of-counsel."  His multiple offices were other flex time rentals.  And that law book he boasted about?  It was self-published. This guy wasn't a corporate shark.  He was a puffer fish with an inferiority complex.  We would eat him for breakfast.

As more attorneys join the ranks of the legal profession, we find many walking the bounds of ethics in their promotional activities. The most common seems to be in the realm of "puffery."  For example, many solos refer to themselves as "John Doe and Associates" despite there being no additional "associates" in their respective offices. To give the appearance of a much larger practice, I often see firm photos in newspaper ads that include any warm body they can throw a suit on.  "You mow the grass outside the office? Well, technically you work for us.  Put on your Sunday best and come to the office on Monday for a group photo."  Website firm bios are often embellished. An attorney does one LLC application on a preprinted form and then claims his legal practice includes a business law group.  As I have said before, is it really honest to claim fifty five years of law practice when that experience is your two years coupled with the fifty three years of your semi-retired, of counsel half dead partner who keeps calling you Billy.  The guy hasn't seen the inside of the court room since the Carter Administration.  So is this type of boasting a grievable offense?  It can very well be in some jurisdictions.

As a snowed in New England attorney,
 I can only assume this is what law practice
 is like in Virginia Beach
The ABA Journal reports that a Virginia Beach lawyer has been suspended partly for implying that his law firm was a little more grandiose than it was in reality.  Back in 2009, Attorney Jason Matthew Head started referring to his firm as Jason Head & Associates.  The problem was that there was no other associates. According to court records, his website also claimed the firm had practice groups that did not exist, that his firm had three locations and that a non lawyer in the office was an "Associate."  The panel also determined that Attorney Head overdrew on his iolta account and failed to pay a settlement which I surmise was the crux of the ethical complaint against him.  Head received a thirty day suspension and one year period of probation.  During his probation, he is also required to retain a law office management consultant.

Here is a link to the decision via the Legal Profession Blog as well as a video of Attorney Head.


Ellen Wright said...

Dear Nutmeg,

Just think back to your high school days-remember when the guys (and some gals) would brag about their weekend conquests? You do? What's most notable about all that?

That's right-them that brag generally didn't get a thing done. Those that can do don't talk. They simply smile and walk away.

Don't you love it?

Erin Russell said...

Great post!

It seems to me that Mr. Head's overstatement of the size of his firm was among his lesser transgressions in light of his trust account and UPL issues. Really unfortunate that he didn't make wiser choices.

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