[April 6, 2010 - Update] Jack Marshall offers a response at his blog, here and describes his position in the comments section below. Jack explains that his post was not intended to linkbait and I take him at his word for that and apologize for the accusation. However, I don’t apologize for the tenor of my post. Too many solo and small firm lawyers have had their careers tarnished by over the top ethics accusations (such as this one where a lawyer faced discipline for criticizing a judge online) and I felt that Jack, in particular, should have understood the consequences to tossing around ethics charges.]
Over at his sparsely populated and impossible to navigate blog Ethics Alarm, American University Washington College of Law adjunct ethics professor Jack Marshall accuses wildly popular New York Personal Injury Law Attorney Law blogger Eric Turkewitz of violating Ethics Rule 8.4 (prohibiting dishonest conduct by lawyers) by fooling a New York Times reporter with an April Fools prank. For those who missed the joke, on April Fools Day, Eric posted that he was named the official White House blogger – and the New York Times’ City Room blog covered the story, only to have to remove the post when it learned of the hoax.
Not that Eric needs any defense from these ludicrous assertions (he’s done just fine on his own), but Marshall ought to know that ethics charges, even as flimsy as those he lobs against Eric, can leave tracks, especially when a solo is involved. So I’m compelled to speak out. As Scott Greenfield posts at Simple Justice:
That Jack Marshall may not have found Turk’s prank funny is another matter. I did, but humor is personal and not everyone finds it in the same place. But his complaint isn’t that the joke was lousy, but that it was unethical. That’s a horse of a different color.
I agree – Marshall has no business levying ethics charges against Eric. Period. Moreover, like Scott, I can’t help but wonder whether Marshall is linkbaiting, i.e., “posting these provocative half-baked accusations to draw business to his ethics consulting firm.” (to quote Scott who puts it best).
But the other thing that really, really bugs me about Marshall’s post is that Eric has done heaps more to educate the blogosphere on ethics than supposed “ethics guru,” Marshall. If Marshall took twenty seconds to actually read Eric’s blog, he’d see that Eric has spoken out against the practice of ethics laundering and he’s impressed upon all lawyers that outsourcing marketing = outsourcing ethics (a concept that’s so important that I’ve quoted it in my upcoming Social Media book with Nicole Black. Indeed, Eric’s persistent efforts to e-shame lawyers into compliance has actually produced results.
So when it comes to ethics, who should you listen to? An adjunct law professor and C-list blogger or someone who practices law, can talk ethics and play a mean April Fools’ joke besides? I think the answer is clear.
Update: Per Ken’s comment below I have de-emphasized Professor Marshall’s adjunct status.