Yesterday, federal judge Otis Wright slammed Prenda, a rogue “porno trolling” quasi-law firm that figured out a formula to get rich in the Internet Age. As Judge Wright uncovered , Prenda bought copyright interests in porn movies, placed them in shell corporations to appear as if they were owned by clients (rather than Prenda lawyers) – then brought boilerplate copyright infringement actions against individuals suspected of having downloaded the porn and extorted hush money to make the cases go away. Finding that Prenda had exploited “antiquated copyright laws, paralyzing social stigma and unaffordable [legal defense] costs” to “plunder the citizenry,” Judge Wright came down hard, awarding double attorneys fees and referring the attorneys to ethics committees, the U.S. Attorney and the IRS for investigation. (For detailed coverage, See Popehat).
Even though Judge Wright pulled the trigger on Prenda, it took solo – in this particular case Manhattan Beach, California based Morgan Pietz to make the Judge angry enough to pick up the gun. In a lengthy affidavit, Pietz, aggregating information on Prenda’s activities in other courts, systematically connected the dots to paint a picture Prenda’s unlawful acts, culminating in its theft of an innocent third-party’s (a property caretaker for one of Prenda’s principals) identity to use front for one of its shell corporations. Though solo, Pietz didn’t defeat Prenda all on his own; a small army of solo and small firms mobilized nationwide to defend Prenda’s (and other trolls’) victims. Presumably, these firms also collaborated and shared documents that eventually exposed the Prenda and lead to its demise.
Because sometimes online, DIY materials – even of the outstanding quality as those prepared by the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s (EFF) – aren’t enough.
Because sometimes “value-based billing” doesn’t always align with and serve the client’s interest (in these cases, value-based billing, if strictly applied, would militate in favor of settling).
So long as our justice system is human, we need solo – scrappy, zealous, delightfully dogged, miraculous solos to defend and protect clients. Our profession and the media obsess about the future of big law — yet if it disappeared tomorrow, would we even notice or care? (already alternatives abound, from robust in-house counsel offices, alternatives like Axiom and offshoring). Prenda reminds us that if we lose solo, we lose justice.