Ethicking

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Mike Lindell may have once been known only as the “MyPillow” Guy,” but recently he’s traded polyurethane foam for horsefeathers. (It’s been really hot and humid out this weekend, sorry.) Last week, Lindell filed suit against Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic (voting hardware and software companies). The complaint alleges…well, it’s here, it’s 82 pages, and alleges a lot of things. Defamation, RICO Act violations, deprivation of civil rights under color of law under 42 USC 1983 (despite none of the defendants being government actors). This error-ridden, objectively bad complaint quite literally cites to Mein Kampf in a footnote. (If…
I’m writing this after 4 pm the Friday before Memorial Day. Throughout the day, I’ve received multiple communications, from multiple agencies and entities, giving me bad news about multiple clients. (To be fair, I had a good-client-news week overall so perhaps today was overdue.) I get that agency investigators and court clerks want to get things off their desk before the weekend. And I get that in some cases (such as summary suspensions) the timing is what it is, and because I don’t know whether my client is heading to the beach for a vacation, to a national cemetery to…
I’ve been practicing law for 12 years. I worked at a very tiny firm right out of law school and did not do a lot of litigation. On the rare occasion we needed to redact something, it happened with a Sharpie or, if we were feeling fancy, with a pair of scissors. Software existed, of course, but it was expensive and for what we did, unnecessary. Now, however, redaction typically happens with software. I learned quickly that there is a difference between actually redacting something and just plunking a black box over something you don’t want other people to see.…
I’ve written about professionalism and “professionalism” before, and since then, I’ve answered more than one “would my tattoos/piercing/green hair be welcome at a law firm?” question. (My answer? I would welcome you but I know that’s far from universal.) I’m excited to see the “What A Lawyer Looks Like” project, which lawyer Alan Mygatt-Tauber started last year, with this rationale: [T]here is a stereotype that lawyers are all staid and professional and that this means that tattoos and funky hair colors are out of line. But in my experience, that isn’t true anymore. The profession is…
You’re relatively new to law practice. (Congratulations on your graduation and new job in a pandemic, by the way.) You studied the rules and maybe passed the MPRE. But you’re still learning and your on-the-job training has been, well…the partners are really busy. Long story short, you messed up, or at least the client thinks you did. They complained to the OLR and now you have to answer an inquiry. Is your newbie-ness and perhaps not-great advice from your supervisor a defense to the grievance? Sorry to say, not always. First, all lawyers—on Day 1 or Day 4,363 (that’s…
Like many lawyers, I’m not dealing with most of my clients on their best day. Their license is being investigated, they’ve discovered a mistake, or their client is demanding money because of an actual or perceived problem. My clients often want to get their matters over with quickly. A question I get frequently, often in the initial consultation, is whether the lawyer can offer to settle the matter financially with their client to make everything go away. This is a “no, not everything” answer. First, if you’re in a position where you’re being asked to pay or are considering it…
So. We’ve been at this for a year. A year. A year ago, my colleagues and I sat around the conference table, trying to parse what health authorities were saying and what it might mean for law practice generally and our work specifically.  We discussed what would happen if people needed to quarantine, and whether we should make sure everyone was set up to receive email remotely, or what might happen in a worst-case scenario, if we had to shut down for a few weeks. We all know how that ended up. A year later, most of us are still…
Over the last couple of days, friends have forwarded articles containing interviews with members of the ex-president’s impeachment trial team, asking if they really should be spilling the tea like that? This is a question I do get generally, so let’s call this a FAQ: Aren’t these things supposed to be confidential? Are lawyers really supposed to talk to media other than to say “no comment”? Lawyers working on cases that garner media attention can and do talk to the media, but what they can say depends on a variety of factors, one of which is confidentiality. Lawyers are…
By now, just about every lawyer has received multiple forwards of the Lawyer Zoom Cat video. For those of you not so lucky, a Texas lawyer accidentally appeared at Zoom court with a filter activated that turned him into a talking cat. He assured the judge that he was, indeed, not a cat and was trying to disable the filter but was able to proceed. The linked article indicates he was using his secretary’s computer, and after changing the filter back, the hearing continued without incident. It was a funny and all-too-human moment in 2021, and I hope a…
I do not remember much from my law school orientation. I remember there was a continental breakfast and some small group sessions, and I remember feeling really, really old at 30, even though in the outside world the age gap between my youngest colleagues (22ish) and me was not that big. “Oh, you’re new to Milwaukee?” I asked one of my group-mates. “Where are you living?” “I have an apartment off-campus with three kids.” “Oh nice! My partner has a three-year-old. How old are your kids?” “No, I meant me and two other kids. Law students.” Beyond that, I remember…
The Wisconsin State Bar Standing Committee on Professional Ethics (of which I am a member) recently approved Formal Opinion EF-21-01, which clarifies when you can threaten someone with criminal prosecution to gain advantage in a civil manner (and withdraws a 2001 opinion). The opinion notes that a prior rule banning the practice outright was repealed in 2007. Now, however, lawyers are cautioned to tread carefully, and avoid doing so unless the civil and criminal matters are related to each other and both are well founded. The opinion also differentiates between threatening to report purported criminal conduct and threatening to…
I remember at the end of the George W. Bush administration, some comedians said that the Obama administration would put them out of business, what with Obama’s lack of propensity for scandal or gaffes. While of course that didn’t happen (the comedy world survived Obama’s tan suits and fancy mustard just fine), I’ve been asked (once) whether I am worried I won’t have blog fodder after all of the ridiculous election and Trump-related litigation is over. I am not. First, it’s not going to be over for a long time. And second, while I’ll miss picking on Giuliani (whenever he…
This is the non-lawyer version of a question I get a lot from lawyer clients—”how long is this disciplinary proceeding going to take?” Unfortunately for lawyers facing discipline and curious lay folks alike, there’s no real answer. I know people get tired of hearing this from lawyers, but really, “it depends.” Every disciplinary authority has its own internal case processing goals, but it is often difficult to determine whether a particular case will fall within the guidelines. Wisconsin’s Office of Lawyer Regulation’s annual report discusses its case processing statistics from the prior year, which can help provide a general sense…
Breaking up is hard to do. (After all, it’s cuffing season.) This axiom is as true in a professional setting as it is in a personal one. How to ditch your quarantine bae before they’re vaccinated is beyond the scope of a legal ethics blog (as is whether I should ever use the term “quarantine bae” ever again). But firing a client and withdrawing from representation is sometimes absolutely necessary, regardless of what the calendar says. Perhaps they won’t return your calls, or are refusing to pay your bill, or you can’t see eye to eye about…
This happens frequently when lawyers are in the news—social media lights up with calls to disbar them for doing whatever the posters believe was out of line. Now, as someone with an increasingly public practice, I wait with bated breath to see if and when the virtual torches and pitchforks come for my license. I’d like to say I’d see it as a badge of honor, but probably in action I would not be as amused. This post is not about whether any lawyer currently in the news deserves discipline, but about the process. So: 1) It is true, anyone…