July 7th, 2009

NYT: "Sotomayor & Associates" Becomes an Issue For Nominee and White House

On June 4th Sonia Sotomayor released an extensive, completed questionnaire about her past to the Senate, and I picked up on the fact that her solo law firm “Sotomayor & Associates” didn’t have any actual associates. This raised an ethical issue, albeit a small one, because it was misleading to the public. The private firm overlapped both her time in the District Attorney’s office and her time with her next gig, Pavia & Harcourt.

And there my little post sat, relatively ignored. Until the Washington Times picked up on it in an editorial on June 20th. While I don’t agree with their premise that it was indicative of larger issues, it was nice that they at least gave attribution to me for finding the item.

And now today the ethical issue of “Sotomayor & Associates” lands in the New York Times (Little Information Given About Solo Law Practice Run by Sotomayor in ’80s.) The Times treats the story as original material to the paper, without giving attribution to others.

The Times has now expanded on the quick treatment that I gave it, and checked with the White House to get more details on the law firm. They found that:

The White House has described Ms. Sotomayor’s outside legal work as an informal practice, one that never required her to file legal documents or appear in court. She never incorporated Sotomayor & Associates or registered it as a business in Manhattan or Brooklyn, where she then lived, according to public records, though she was not required to do so.

The Times goes on to quote old-reliable ethics commentator and NYU law prof Stephen Gillers (are there no other ethics attorneys to quote in New York?) as agreeing with me that this was a violation of the ethical rules in effect at the time:

Stephen Gillers, professor of legal ethics at New York University Law School, said Judge Sotomayor’s use of the larger-sounding title was “inadvisable because it is inaccurate.” He noted that bar associations frown on the use of the term “and associates” by single practitioners. “She could have just said, ‘Law Offices of Sonia Sotomayor,’ ” he said.

[Note to Gillers: If Sotomayor wrote “Law Offices of Sonia Sotomayor” it would also be inaccurate. It would need to be singular, not plural.]

The White House, however, claims that no ethical violation occurred with the use of “& Associates” at a time when there were no actual associates. They responded:

“Neither bar opinions nor cases to date have held that it was misleading for a sole practitioner to use the name ‘and Associates’ in such private communications…In fact, in the early 1980s, no rule prohibited the use of ‘and Associates’ in these circumstances and the only authority regarding the use of ‘and Associates’ in an advertising context was advisory, not mandatory, and thus not readily enforceable.”

Why did I bother with this minor issue to begin with? Because I sometimes write about the practice of law for small practitioners, about legal marketing and its problems, because the nominee fell into that zone of commentary, and because massive layoffs in the legal field were sending folks out on their own. It was meant as little more than a cautionary tale for those starting up their own practices to be careful about over-promoting themselves and running into trouble.

Now if we could turn to the ethics of the New York Times in using the stories of others without giving credit….

Update: I’ve added more regarding this at: Sotomayor Offers Lousy Defense To Ethics Charge Over Firm Name

Links to this post:

blawg review #220
welcome to blawg review #220, rounding up some highlights of the past week from around the legal blogosphere. it’s my second time hosting it here at overlawyered, a blog that as its name implies maintains a certain critical distance

posted by Walter Olson @ July 13, 2009 3:40 AM

the lessons of sotomayor and associates
fittingly, it was a solo – eric turkewitz – who broke the story of supreme court nominee, sonya_sotomayor’s foray into solo practice under the firm name, sotomayor and associates -impermissible name under new york ethics rules given

posted by [email protected] (Carolyn Elefant) @ July 13, 2009 12:59 AM

sotomayor “and associates”
when practicing a bit of law on the side during her time with the manhattan da’s office and at a larger law firm, the nominee called her very small practice “sotomayor & associates” even though it had no lawyers but herself.

posted by Walter Olson @ July 08, 2009 7:20 AM

“Sotomayor & Associates” … meh, who cares?
Nothing has happened since May 26 to make me change my initial take on Pres. Obama’s nomination of US Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor to fill Justice Souter’s seat on the Supreme Court. (That take, in short, was this: Obama would never

posted by Beldar @ July 07, 2009 11:01 PM

sonia sotomayor “and associates”
[i’ve edited to make this tighter.] story here and here. eric turkewitz, a new york lawyer/blawger, broke the story. [then professor alberto bernabe, of the john marshall school of law, blogged about it.]

posted by John Steele @ July 07, 2009 2:48 PM

legal ethics — and journalistic ethics….
legal ethics — and journalistic ethics.
posted by Glenn Reynolds @ July 07, 2009 8:54 AM


June 4th, 2009

Did Sotomayor Violate NY Ethics Rules in Private Solo Practice with "& Associates" Name?

I was skimming the questionnaire of SCOTUS nominee Sandra Sotomayor to look back at her life in private practice. And I found this starting on page 143 of the Committee Questionnaire:

ii. whether you practiced alone, and if so, the addresses and dates;

Yes, with Sotomayor & Associates, 10 3rd Street, Brooklyn, New York 11231, from 1983 to 1986, but this work was as a consultant to family and friends in their real estate, business, and estate planning decisions. If their circumstances required more substantial legal representation, I referred the
matter to my firm, Pavia & Harcourt, or to others with appropriate expertise.

Now Sotomayor was a prosecutor up until 1984 and started in April of that year with Pavia & Hartcourt, according to the questionnaire. That means she had her private law firm, likely a home office based on her modest description of the practice, that overlapped both her prosecutor’s position and her associate’s position at Pavia & Hartcourte. So the question here is not whether she had permission to have that private firm, as I suspect she must have, but rather, why she called it “Sotomayor & Associates“?

Did she have any associates when she was advertising herself in that manner? My guess is no, given that this was a side business that she says was devoted to consulting for family and friends. And if she had no associates, then it is a no-no to tell the world that you do. That’s misleading.

From the American Bar Association comes this all-inclusive statement that such conduct is prohibited in every state:

Are there any Associates (or “Law Groups”) in the House?

There are several state bar opinions that address a lawyer’s use of terms in a firm name that carry with them the implication that there is more than one lawyer in the firm. Examples of such terms include “X and associates” or “The X law group”. Citations to these opinions, along with digests of them as they appear in the ABA/BNA Lawyers’ Manual on Professional Conduct follow.

All State bar opinions are in agreement that a lawyer may not use the term, “and Associates” if there are in fact no associates in the firm. See, South Carolina Opinion 05-19 (2005) (A lawyer seeking to open a governmental affairs and lobbying firm consisting of the lawyer and two nonlawyer employees may not name the firm “John Doe and Associates, P.A.” The name violates Rules 7.1 and 7.5(a) because it misleadingly implies that the firm has more than one lawyer.), Ohio Opinion 95-1 (1995) (A lawyer who is in solo practice may not use the phrase “and Associates” in the firm name to indicate that the lawyer shares space with other lawyers, acts as co-counsel with other lawyers, or has non-lawyer employees. A lawyer who is the sole shareholder in a professional corporation may not use the phrase “and Associates” in the firm name when the lawyer in fact has no employees.)

In New York, the conduct would fall under DR 2-102, which bars misleading advertising on a letterhead. [See Comment 2] If in fact Sotomayor had no associates at her firm, it would appear she overstepped the bounds of self-promotion by making her firm seem bigger than it was.

Now I am well aware that there are a whole lot more serious ethical violations that take place. But I do my fair share of writing on the subject of advertising and self-promotion when it comes to practicing lawyers, and it wouldn’t be fair to others to give Sotomayor a free pass on the subject.

Previous Sotomayor posts here:

Update: I Googled the law firm name with this query: “Sotomayor & Associates” Sonia. I did not find any discussion of Judge Sotomayor’s private practice under that firm name.

Update 2:

Links to this post:

busting judge sotomayor
judge sotomayor has the enviable advantage of being the nominee of a democratic president, and an overwhelmingly democrat congress. as such, her success has been a foregone conclusion. but simply arguendo, let me outline reasons why

posted by PoliticalChic @ July 16, 2009 10:49 AM

blawg review #220
welcome to blawg review #220, rounding up some highlights of the past week from around the legal blogosphere. it’s my second time hosting it here at overlawyered, a blog that as its name implies maintains a certain critical distance

posted by Walter Olson @ July 13, 2009 3:40 AM

the lessons of sotomayor and associates
fittingly, it was a solo – eric turkewitz – who broke the story of supreme court nominee, sonya_sotomayor’s foray into solo practice under the firm name, sotomayor and associates -impermissible name under new york ethics rules given

posted by [email protected] (Carolyn Elefant) @ July 13, 2009 12:59 AM

why eric turkewitz still matters
with regard to the issue of giving credit for discovering the “sotomeyor & associates” issue, eric turkewitz comments: something might be in the public domain, but it if is buried in a box of other documents, someone still has to go

posted by Mark Draughn @ July 09, 2009 11:48 AM

on the ethics of sourcing for bloggers and journalists
radley balko used to piss me off. back in my early days in the blogosphere, i sent him a few links to stories i thought might interest him. he then mentioned those stories in his agitator blog, but didn’t credit me for sending him the

posted by Mark Draughn @ July 08, 2009 11:24 AM

sotomayor “and associates”
when practicing a bit of law on the side during her time with the manhattan da’s office and at a larger law firm, the nominee called her very small practice “sotomayor & associates” even though it had no lawyers but herself.

posted by Walter Olson @ July 08, 2009 7:20 AM

sotomayor & associates
[guest post by drj]. the new york times addresses sonia sotomayor’s legal practice in the 1980’s: “in her questionnaire, judge sotomayor says she was the “owner” of sotomayor & associates, which she described as a consulting business

posted by DRJ @ July 08, 2009 12:08 AM

post-hiatus supreme court stuff…
it’s been a long time, i shouldn’t have left you… (anyone who can finish that sentence wins a prize!) i have been on a bit of a hiatus while i concentrated on completing my fellowship at the drum major institute for public policy.

posted by Kia Franklin @ June 12, 2009 6:08 PM

blawg review #215
it’s 2:30 am on the morning of world oceans day, as i sit here drowning in a sea of submissions for blawg review #215. buoy, i’m in trouble, with a sinking feeling about all i have yet to do. but before i sail into the heart of this
posted by [email protected] (Carolyn Elefant) @ June 08, 2009 3:25 AM


June 1st, 2009

Sotomayor is Most Like Which Baseball Figure? (Yes! It’s a real question!)

Sure, I know what you’re thinking. That my question in the headline is silly, while everyone is probing every legal angle they can find on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Every word she has uttered or written is being discussed and debated — while being cogitated, contemplated, ruminated and regurgitated in various hashings and re-hashings — all in the hopes of finding something controversial to be meaningfully exciting. And we haven’t even had hearings. But you should know that my question isn’t simply about whether this particular Yankee fan “saved baseball,” or not. No, this is a question that must get asked because it will be asked whether we like it or not.

It will get asked, you see, because Oyez.org, which runs a super-serious Supreme Court website, understands as I do that there is a passionate interest in baseball at the Supreme Court. If you don’t know about Oyez’s multi-media Supreme Court web site and its baseball quiz, here is an intro:

The Oyez Project began in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field in the late 1980s as the Chicago Cubs continued to break the hearts of its many diehard fans. It was during one such game that the idea of creating a multimedia-based Supreme Court experience took root. The first iteration was a series of complex HyperCard stacks built on a baseball-card metaphor. The “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court” demonstrated the power of multimedia integration with serious academic content. Many students worked on various versions before the development of a web-based application. The development of a web-based version of the project stems from the foresight of Richard Barone and Joe Germuska of Northwestern’s then nascent Learning Technologies Group…

Oyez has a biography of every Supreme Court justice, and at the end of each bio they have a quiz, asking the reader to choose which baseball figure a particular justice is most like. For example, John Jay, the first Chief Justice, is compared with Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner of baseball. Philly fan, and former fantasy camp player Sam Alito’s bio is here and you can take your own peek to see how well you do with a modern day jurist.

Oyez gives this brief explanation of its quiz:

“The Law-Baseball Quiz” debuted in the New York Times on April 4, 1979. Created by law professor Robert M. Cover, it compared baseball players and Supreme Court Justices. Unlike Eddie Gaedel, the midget in baseball’s most publicized stunt, the Quiz has delighted and stumped enthusiasts on many occasions since it first appeared…

So, given that SCOTUSblog guru Tom Goldstein opined that Sotomayor is a shoo-in, and that the only glimmer of controversy is whether she ever made judgments based on race, and this turns out to be a non-issue when her record is examined, we must turn to the burning question of the day: Which baseball figure will Sotomayor be compared with from the world of baseball?

And if you thought you would just Google “First Hispanic Baseball Player” and be done with it (Esteban Bellan, 1871, Troy Haymakers) don’t be so quick on the trigger. For color barrier-breaker Thurgood Marshall was not compared with Jackie Robinson, but with Emmet Ashford, the first black umpire. Oyez makes you think. (Sandra Day O’Connor picked up the Robinson connection.) And there is also that background issue of whether Sotomayor even qualifies as the first Hispanic justice, given Benjamin Cardozo’s Portuguese roots.

Which brings us to the penultimate Sotomayor question — since the dead horse beating rule has not yet been invoked on all things Sotomayor nor has anyone successfully jumped the shark here — will she be compared with an Hispanic player? A Puerto Rican player? A woman umpire? Or someone that isn’t nearly so obvious? Let the guessing begin…

Sotomayor-Yankee photo find: Underneath Their Robes


May 28th, 2009

Advice and Consent on SCOTUS Pick – First Time in Decades?

The comments were buried deep in an article in today’s New York Times on the process by which President Obama nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court. Obama, it seems, did the unheard of practice of calling every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee seeking their input.

While the Constitution requires (Article II, Section 2, paragraph 2) the advice and consent of the Senate for Supreme Court justices, stating that the President:

…shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court…

the reality is that Presidents, at least in recent memory, ignore the advice part and simply ask for consent. Presidents are funny that way.

According to Republican Senator Charles Grassley, however, in his 29 years on the Judiciary Committee Obama is the first President to call and actually seek that advice. From the article, with my emphasis:

As he narrowed his choices, aides said, Mr. Obama kept asking for more original writings by the candidates, and he called every member of the Judiciary Committee, something few if any presidents have done.

In his conversations with senators, Mr. Obama did not let on whom he was thinking about, but described what kind of nominee he was looking for and asked for names. “I don’t think he saw the process as him saying, ‘Which of these five people would you oppose or support,’ ” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the Judiciary Committee chairman.

“He asked if I had any suggestions for nominees,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, a member of the committee for 29 years. “This is the first time I’ve ever been called by a president on a Supreme Court nomination, be it a Republican or a Democrat.

A President that actually cares about the Constitution. What a concept.

Links to this post:

blawg review #214
had enough of the credit-crunch? this is an edition of blawg review for those who say… “when the credit-crunch gets tough… the credit-crunched get crunched with smokedo… and blog.” it is not x rated, it is office safe; the geeklawyer
posted by charonqc @ May 31, 2009 2:03 PM


May 18th, 2009

Judge Sotomayor and the First Amendment (And the Pending Case)

Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals is on the short list for Justice David Souter’s soon-to-be-vacant Supreme Court seat. At SCOTUSblog, Tom Goldstein reviews some of her civil appellate opinions, and notes that “Sotomayor has considered First Amendment issues relatively infrequently.”

It’s worth noting then, that she currently has a First Amendment case before her that I’ve discussed with some frequency on this blog, and one that may ultimately affect all attorneys: The issue of New York’s new attorney advertising rules in Alexander & Catalano v. Cahill.

The case, argued January 22nd before a three judge panel comprised of Sotomayor, Guido Calabresi and John M. Walker Jr., deals with a number of attorney advertising and anti-solicitation ethics rules that went into effect in 2007 (see, New Attorney Advertising Rules (Is This Blog an Advertisement?), which includes a 30-day moratorium on attorney advertising after a mass disaster. That particular rule was upheld in the court below. The problem with that regulation, as I’ve discussed, is not so much the 30-day time period, but the difficulty in defining advertising in the context of the web. Just trying to figure out who must comply is often difficult.

Subsequent to oral argument, the real-world effects of the regulation were seen when Continental Flight #347 went down in Buffalo, and I followed the myriad ways that advertising/solicitation could take place that might violate the rule. And that the very ambiguity of trying to figure out where the bright line of solicitation exists raised First Amendment issues. Some of the those posts are here:

It is now almost five months since argument was made. Whether a decision comes out while the SCOTUS nominating waiting game goes on, or after it is over, remains to be seen.

(My comments on one of the qualities the nominee should have are here: The SCOTUS Nominee and The Tissue Box Test)

Links to this post:

“Judge Sotomayor and the First Amendment (And the Pending Case)”
“Judge Sotomayor and the First Amendment (And the Pending Case)”: Eric Turkewitz has this post today at his “New York Personal Injury Law Blog.”
posted by Howard Bashman @ May 18, 2009 12:42 PM