June 19th, 2014

Amazon’s New Phone, Marketing and Lawyering

AmazonBezosPhoneSo Amazon.com introduced a new phone yesterday. And what does it do? It allows you to point it at some knick-knack you might want to buy and Amazon tells you how much you can buy it for from them.

What is really does, of course, is give yet more information to Amazon and its partners as to your every thought, whim and desire. What does it do for the consumer? Not so much. You can already go to their website, after all, and see what they have.

Here is the problem, which should have been obvious, if it wasn’t already with the big scandal over Edward Snowden and the NSA spying on us: People hate to be spied on.

Google, which started out with a mantra of “Don’t be evil” loves to collect information on you. So too does LinkedIn, which seems to like snooping through your contacts, then using those names to send out spam.

Lawyers should learn from this: Because this is everything you should not do.

Lawyers provide a service; our clients are our mission. When retained, we are supposed to do the job we were hired to do as diligently as possible, not use it as an excuse to find yet more clients. The client comes first.

We’ve seen a few examples in the past, of course. One example was a Chicago criminal defense lawyer using his potential retention by Lindsay Lohan as an excuse to give a press interview. We’ve seen it also with lawyers that place stupid ad damnum clauses in Complaints hoping that they can get their names in the paper.

Except it isn’t about the lawyer. It’s about the client.

So watch Amazon and Google and LinkedIn and learn from them about the stuff you should not be doing.


October 7th, 2013

Lawyers, Politics and Civility


Mark Bower, today’s guest blogger.

Mark Bower steps in today to offer a guest blog on lawyers and politicians:


Several years ago, with considerable fanfare, our courts put in place a new Code of Civility. The Appellate Divisions recognized that the loss of courtesies and honor between adversaries was hurting the profession and the pursuit of justice.

After the initial fanfare, the code fell into widespread disuse, largely because our judges refuse to sanction abusers. With the desuetude of the code, the level of incivility has increased to the point that now, some attorneys are publicly musing about surreptitiously recording legal proceedings on their cell phones, so that the abuse can be documented and put on display. However, surreptitious recording is itself a form of incivility, and so the cycle goes ’round and ’round.

This is worsened by our judges’ belief that “fairness” requires everyone get a little of what they want, and sacrifice a little of what they want, so that if each side is denied 20 percent of what they asked for, that automatically is “fair.” Sort of like the wisdom of Solomon, except the cutting the baby in half merely produces two halves of a dead baby, and in today’s uncivil climate, one cannot count on one side to sacrifice their self-interest to save the baby’s life.

That one side might be clearly right, and the other clearly wrong, doesn’t matter; all that matters is that each side gets a little and loses a little, because that is “fair”.

Will McAvoy put it nicely: If the Republicans do fourteen ridiculous things, and the Democrats do one, does the media have to concoct and report thirteen fictitious things in order to be “fair and balanced”? (“The Newsroom,” season closer, “Election Night, Part II,” at approx. 41:30.)

The result of this misconceived calculus is that the more outlandish one’s demands are, the more one benefits by having an equal portion disallowed. Reasonablemess is disproportionately punished, while being outrageous is disproportionately rewarded. Misconduct is promoted, and good conduct discouraged.

This insanity is on full display in Washington. Although Grover Norquist’s stated goal is to shrink government to the size that it can be drowned in a bathtub; although Ted Cruz plainly stated he would shut down the government rather than allow the Affordable Care Act to go into effect; although most of the GOP wants to eliminate the Departments of Education, Energy, EPA, etc., and are delighted that they are shut down; in the interests of “fairness,” the mainstream media gives prominent play to grandstanding chickenhawk politicians who enthusiastically support the shutdown but pose with veterans at war memorials to glom onto their heroism, and give equal time to spinners who proclaim the shutdown to be the president’s fault.

Will McAvoy’s question hangs heavily in the air.

Our country’s international standing is going into the toilet, and we look like a nation of fools, but the right-wing is genuinely indifferent. If the USA defaults on its national debt, and the most secure and stable investment ever known to man becomes unpredictable and volatile, doubtless this will also be spun as the Democrats’ fault, and that Big Lie, too, will get equal play with the media.

Which brings me back to the demise of civility. The rules of discourse have changed on a broad scale. Fairness, candor, and honesty are devalued, and outrageousness and hyperbole rewarded. On the other hand, occasional displays of professional courtesy get nice recognition, but they are noteworthy because they are rare. The decline of civility, and its insidious effect on fairness, is a pervasive mindset problem, for which I see no ready solution.


February 28th, 2013

Courtesy Matters

I was sitting in court yesterday waiting for an adversary when something extraordinary happened. In fact, in 25+ years practicing law, it may have been a first.

I arrived at 9:30 sharp for a simple preliminary conference on a medical malpractice case — the initial conference in our part of the world where a discovery schedule is established. As is the practice, I proceeded to holler out the name of the case and the firm, hoping to find my adversary and start working on the forms, figuring out what we would could agree on and what might need judicial intervention.

Forty minutes go by and I am approached by a lawyer from the firm on the other side, Aaronson Rappaport, Feinstein & Deutsch. This is one of the small handful of top tier med mal defense firms in the city.  If you were a doctor that had been sued, you’d want them as your counsel.

And this lawyer that I had never met proceeds to tell me that no, he is not here on my case.  But he heard me call out both the firm name and the case name, knew something was amiss, and called his office. They had the matter on for 10:30 he told me, and the lawyer handling this one would be here shortly.

Let me repeat. It wasn’t his case. But on his own initiative, he made the call  anyway. Most lawyers, even if they were from the same firm and happened to be in the same room, wouldn’t bother unless the case was theirs, though it costs them nothing but a moment’s time to do this.

But Sam did. He went the extra yard.

I use this space often enough to rail about the unprofessional and ethical problems of other lawyers. Newspapers do the same, because it is outlier stories that are most interesting to the public.

But that also might leave the impression among the lay public that most lawyers/cases in the courthouse are like that. They aren’t. Matters of professional courtesy aren’t considered newsworthy.

It also happens to be good lawyering, for anyone that has stood in the well of the courtroom knows that what goes around, comes around. If you don’t extend the extra day here or there because the other lawyer wants to see his daughter in her first grade play, for example, don’t expect a return favor.

One of my favorite lessons from being trained was watching my Dad try a case. He and the other lawyer would smash heads in the courtroom. Then go out for coffee afterwards.

This also happens to be good for  your client. Because if/when the time comes to talk about a settlement, it is far better for the clients on both sides if the lawyers are on good personal terms so that they can have a candid discussion.

Courtesy matters. On multiple levels.