The rule of honesty for attorneys needs to be The Rule in Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Case.
If a casual acquaintance, seeking to buy a dress or suit, asks whether the dress or suit makes the buyer’s derriere appear more plump, the superficially polite response of the observer might be a less than candid “well, I don’t notice any such thing.” This would fall under the category of lie that in the Catholic Church is called a “mental reservation” or in the Jewish tradition as a lie to preserve “shalom bayis” or peace in the home. A similar example would be stating to a cold-caller that “Mrs. Smith/Attorney Jones is not available” when they are available in a certain sense.
A friend – not a Hollywood friend or mere acquaintance but a real friend, the sort of friend who tells you difficult news to your face out of good will – will find a warm-hearted but direct way to tell you, if she or he believes it true, that that suit or dress may be a poor fit and that another choice would better flatter your curvature.
The attorney – YOUR attorney – on the other hand, has to tell you the truth. If you are charged criminally you need to your attorney to tell you how you are exposed, if you are exposed – NOT to make you feel better. You owe it to yourself and your attorney owes it to you to be able to make certain decisions with “informed consent” – enough information to allow you to exercise reasonable judgment. If your attorney observes your big butt, so to speak, she must tell you that it is as big as it is, and that the dress or suit is an innocent bystander. Maybe your psychologist or priest doesn’t owe you full candor on every single issue for your psychological or spiritual benefit; I don’t know, go ask them. But on the decisions that matter, giving you feel-good nonsense (or feel-bad nonsense, if it is nonsense) on substantive, material issues on your case is unethical to the extent that it impedes your ability to make the decisions that you need to make.
An irritation in my main areas of practice is callers who call for a family member, particularly a family member who isn’t in jail and is over 18. More irritating are callers who pretend that they are the client, but then at some point confess that they aren’t the employee, but the employee’s girlfriend (after several minutes of “I” and “my job” deceptive nonsense.) I hate it, but I expect it to continue; clients’ family members and “comares” will continue to engage my time under false pretenses and it’s on me to flush those callers out of my practice.
What I don’t expect is that a legal marketing company will front as if it were a law firm itself. That I didn’t see coming.
I got a call today from area code 312, Illinois. Midwesterners may recognize that number as a Chicago number but I am from Baltimore and as far as I am concerned, Chicago doesn’t really exist. New York exists; Philly exists; DC exists and Baltimore is the center of the universe. Chicago doesn’t exist. But Chicago called me.
A voice of a young man called saying that he was looking for criminal lawyers in my area to whom to make several referrals, that he was handling matters for the office of attorney Kevin Chern (it was hard to make it out but I got the spelling later) and he wanted to set up appointment times for the clients. I expressed interest generally, but requested that the law firm send me some information by email, that I needed to make conflict checks against my own caseload and that Maryland was strict about ethical conflicts involving co-defendants, such that I’d probably have to make a referral of any co-defendants to local counsel. I indicated that Maryland was not a large statet but that I preferred to handle matters within a 30-mile radius of my office or Baltimore generally. The young man sounded disappointed but said that the matters were for Baltimore City as best as he knew, and that he would have a Mr. Pistorius contact me with more information.
I got the following email from a Brian Pistorius maybe 20 minutes later or so.
So this wasn’t a law office, but a marketing company pretending to be a law firm through the ambiguity in English between “office of Attorney Joe Blow,” from which one assumes logically that an “office of attorney” is “an attorney’s office” as defined under the applicable parts of e.g. the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct. I note that “Total Attorneys” is a marketing company, not organized as a law firm; they are an internet marketing outfit that also bought out attorney Stephanie Kimbro’s online virtual law firm software platform a few years ago.
Kevin Chern, as CEO of this regular business corporation, is knowingly or un-knowingly allowing his reps to present themselves as his personal agents and only secondarily (in Pistorius apparently reluctant case) or not at all (in the case of Joel the cold-caller) as representatives of Total Attorneys marketing shop. My questions – about attorney ethics, demanding written confirmation of the identity of the cold-calling shop – blew their cover. Both Joel in his tone and Pistorius in the sort of sad-sack tone of his email reflect that they probably knew they blew the sale.
I note how Pistorius refers to Chern as “my attorney.” No, wrong. Chern is not your attorney. My clients can call me “my attorney.” Chern is Pistorius’ boss as CEO of the company, not “my attorney.” “My attorney” has a pretty big national presence – really? I hope that this blog post makes it a lot bigger. Sure, Baltimoreans are calling Mr. Chern’s Chicago law office. Right. Riiiiiiight. “My attorney.”
I don’t expect a legal marketing company’s agents to misrepresent what their principal is. I REALLY don’t expect an attorney to allow such nonsense to happen. So this was my response to Pistorius. Sorry for the misspelling of “Chern”
Total Attorneys, I don’t know how thick your butt is but your ethics are thin.