Eric Turkewitz said it first, years ago, and still, no one’s listening.
Most recently, a fairly new South Carolina attorney disobeyed the legal profession’s equivalent of the law of gravity, outsourcing marketing = outsourcing ethics. And just as ignoring the gravity or pretending that it doesn’t exist will send anyone but a fantasy character tumbling, so too, relying on ethics advice from outside vendors lead this young lawyer into a brief ethics freefall.
As reported in the ABA Journal, the South Carolina Bar imposed a public reprimand, by consent, against a solo lawyer licensed to practice in 2010 for exaggerating his experience on his law firm websites and online profiles. After admission to the bar, the lawyer opened a solo practice in July 2010 and launched two law firm websites in August and December 2010.
According to the Disciplinary Ruling, the websites violated various ethics rules by falsely represented that the lawyer had represented clients in federal court, that he graduated from law school in 2005 and suggesting that he had experience in 50 different, listed practice areas. The lawyer’s online profiles at sites like lawyers.com and LinkedIn suffered from similar misrepresentations. As a defense, the lawyer explained that he had
relied on company representatives who were lawyers and non-attorney web designers who assured him that the advertisements would comply with ethics requirements.
Subsequently, the the lawyer admitted his misconduct and agreed to a public reprimand for misconduct and to complete the “Legal Ethics and Practice Program Ethics School and Advertising School.”
The ABA article reporting this matter has drawn lots of comments, some of which empathized with the lawyer for having to compete in such a tight market. There was also a comment purportedly from the offending lawyer (since been removed by the moderator) which I read yesterday – and in my view, it reflected appropriate acceptance of responsibility. Though I don’t know if the comment was really by the lawyer or why it was removed, it seemed genuine to me which is why I’ve chosen not to use the lawyer’s name in this post.
Whether the lawyer played fast and loose with ethics rules to see how much he could get away with or relied on advice from others trying to promote a product or truly didn’t understand his ethics obligations, at the end of the day, none of that matters. Lawyers have an obligation to abide by ethics rules. Ignorance or the rules or reliance on others is no defense. Simple as that.