Looking for a Lawyer? Buyer Beware

_DSC4851The practice of law is both a profession and a business. Many lawyers rely on their winning track record and high ethics to gain a reputation that engenders word-of-mouth referrals.

Other attorneys buttress their status in the profession with advertising, but Yellow Page ads, popular for so many years, have gone the way of the dodo bird.

Today’s lawyers utilize television, radio, and the internet to entice potential clients. Many of these ads fall into the cruelly boring “conservative, balding, male lawyer standing in front of a bookcase” category. While others are innovative, even racy! Case in point:

An all-women law firm in Chicago created a billboard ad that read “Life’s Short. Get a Divorce.” The ad featured a photo of an attractive woman in her lingerie beside a handsome man with a tanned six-pack. The woman who posed for the ad looked like a model but she was the lead attorney at the law firm and the dude with her was her personal trainer.

She reported that the firm was inundated with phone calls. Of course, the billboard created quite a stir and consternation in the Chicago bar. It was removed seven days after it went up for an alleged by-law infringement.

In reaction to their increase in business, these lady lawyers started a website with the same name, where they sell T-shirts and mugs with the slogan emblazoned on their products. From all reports they’re selling like hotcakes!

Other forays into to the world of marketing are less provocative but no less effective. One family law firm, again an all-women firm, launched their print marketing with the headline “Ever Argue With A Woman?” I think they made their point very clear!

Of course, where television copies life, you have the billboard in New Mexico declaring “Better Call Saul”, the sleaze bag attorney from “Breaking Bad” who has been rewarded with his own spin-off show.

Other law firms have raised the hackles of their governing bodies with their ads.

In Nevada a lawyer bills himself as “The Heavy Hitter” in his rambunctious televisions spots and a Polish speaking lawyer ran an ad on a Polish-language radio station referring to himself as “The Lion of the Court”. The trouble was that he had never tried a case in court!

Looking for a lawyer? Buyer Beware!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Lawyers Convicted of Extortion in Collection of Their Legal Bill

_DSC4179 - Version 2As a lawyer/owner who has practiced law for 26 years, I learned a thing or two about how to run a law firm. While the practice of law qualifies as a profession, and for some a “calling”, it is also very much a business. The bottom line is that if you don’t get paid, you will not be in business very long.

That’s why most lawyers understand that it is usually necessary to get a retainer “up front”. Unlike a body shop who has your car and will not release it until they are paid, or a watch repair business who will hang on to your Rolex until they get your Visa card, lawyers sell “intellectual property”, an intangible asset that is in high demand.

However, researchers who study people who need a lawyer recognize that a person with a legal problem is most inclined to gratefully accept legal advice and willingly (perhaps not happyily) pay their lawyer when they feel the most pressure i.e. when they are overwhelmed with anxiety and stress and are desperate for someone to alleviate their legal or financial pain.

Many young lawyers, including myself, way back when, have learned hard lessons about collecting legal fees. Ironically, the worst clients to collect from are so-called “good friends”. While they swear they will pay you, they often do not and usually without any justification.

Recently two senior lawyers in Tennessee broke the cardinal rule about getting paid in advance, only to be accused of extortion when they attempted to collect $50,000 they said a client owed them.

Michelle Langlois hired lawyers Carrie Gasaway, wife of a longtime local Tennessee judge, and her partner Fletcher Long to be present at the reading of her father’s will, a legal service that would cost her $800.00.

After the reading of the will, Ms. Gasaway and Mr. Long advised Ms. Langlois to challenge the will, and asked her to sign a retainer agreement. They initially offered a contingency contract of 20% of the monies they recouped for her.

Ms. Langlois instead decided on a flat fee of $50,000 for all the legal services required. She provided the lawyers with a personal cheque for $50,000 but advised them they could not cash it until she sold some of the stocks she received from her inheritance.

Langlois later sold the stock and faxed a certified cheque for $50,000 to the lawyers with a plan to meet with them to give them the original cheque. But she cancelled the meeting and in short order, fired her lawyers who angrily demanded payment of their fee.

An email to Ms. Langlois from the lawyers read:

“While we really don’t feel like you are in much of a position to negotiate, we will accept $7,000 as a full settlement […] in the event the check is not good, you will only receive more criminal charges.”

Testimony at trial indicated that Gasaway and Long had taken funds from monies held in trust for another client to purchase real estate and needed Langlois to pay her bill so they could return the funds to their trust account.

In their zeal to collect their alleged fee, they made good on their threats to put her in jail and had her arrested for “theft of services”, a charge that was later dropped once the truth emerged about the lawyers’ collection methods.

Last week a jury found both lawyers guilty of extortion, a Class D felony with a sentencing range of two to 12 years with a maximum fine of $5,000.

Needless to say their legal careers are over. Attorney Long said he is considering changing his profession because it is “too stressful. He added:

“God has a plan for me, but it’s not to practice law… I think I have some marketable skills.”

Yesterday both attorneys had their licenses to practice law revoked pending a full discipline hearing. An inevitably unhappy ending for all concerned.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Lawyer’s Arrest Mid-Trial a Set-up by Opposing Counsel

10950859361151CDPFlorida radio “shock-jocks”, “Bubba the Love Sponge” Clem and Todd “MJ” Schnitt were engaged in an ugly defamation lawsuit, a case that spun out for five years, culminating in a tough-fought court battle that ended with Bubba declaring himself the victor. But the conflict between the two radio DJ’s took a back seat to the drama that unfolded when MJ’s lawyer, C. Phillip Campbell Jr., was busted for drunk driving in the middle of the trial.

Lawyer Campbell apparently got under the skin of Bubba’s lawyers at Adams & Diaco, so much so they repeatedly brought motions before the trial judge to have him removed as MJ’s counsel, with zero success. But according to Mr. Campbell’s DUI lawyer and the prosecuting attorney, Adams & Diaco found another way to get back at their courtroom adversary.

After court Mr. Campbell walked from his office/apartment to Tampa’s Malio’s Prime Steakhouse two blocks away. An attractive paralegal in the employ of Adams & Diaco was in the restaurant and saw Campbell. She quickly contacted her bosses and asked if she “there was anything she should do?” Following instructions Melissa Personious began a flirtation with Mr. Campbell, lying about who she worked for, and buying him drinks. Campbell wasn’t driving and enjoyed a few drinks.

Shortly after Campbell and Personious connected, lawyer Adam Filthaut from Adams & Diaco called a police officer friend who sat outside the restaurant for three hours waiting for Campbell to leave. Unfortunately, Campbell ended up driving Ms. Personious home in her vehicle, but was stopped and charged with DUI within the first five blocks. He refused to take a breathalyzer.

Notably, at the time Adams & Diaco contacted the police Campbell was stone-cold sober and upon his arrest there was no evidence he was over the limit for alcohol consumption.

During the investigation it became apparent that Ms. Personious was in constant contact with her employers, sending and receiving over 200 text messages and phone calls.

Eventually the charges against Mr. Campbell were dropped, the prosecutors comments included words like “collaboration” and “organized effort”. They said the intense communication between the paralegal and Adams & Diaco was “jaw-dropping”.

Campbell’s lawyer, John Fitzgibbons said:

“It is now absolutely clear that Mr. Campbell was the victim of a devious setup, And all honest and ethical police officers and lawyers should be deeply troubled over what happened.”

Meanwhile, Bubba tweeted:

“This setup nonsense has nothing to do with me or the fact that a jury of my peers found in my favor vs Todd Schnitt. This was just another weak attempt from the losers to justify why they got their a– kicked in court by me/jay diaco.”

Thankfully Adams & Diaco’s “dirty tricks” were the subject of discipline proceedings. Last month Stephen Diaco was disbarred with a stipulation that he could not apply for re-entry into the Florida bar for five years, and would have to retake the bar exam.

Robert Adams and Adam Filthaut entered conditional consent guilty pleas that would impose upon each lawyer a 91-day suspension and requirement to attend ethics school.

The Florida Bar’s Creed of Professionalism includes the following:

“I will strictly adhere to the spirit as well as the letter of my profession’s code of ethics, to the extent that the law permits and will at all times be guided by a fundamental sense of honor, integrity, and fair play.”

Lawyers like these need to be ferreted out of the profession.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Love and Legal Fees Incompatible

BarristerIn 1990 Park Avenue family practice doctor, G.Peta Carrera, hired his girlfriend, Manhattan lawyer, Christine Anderson to represent him in a civil suit where he was accused of sexually molesting a patient.

Because they had been together for ten years, Ms. Anderson did not insist on a cash retainer from Dr. Carrera but instead took the doctor’s Park Avenue apartment and his Mercedes Benz as security for her legal fees. Anderson and Carrera agreed that he would sell his apartment after the trial to pay his legal fees.

Ultimately, Dr. Carrera lost his civil suit with the jury awarding $1.4 million dollars to his former patient.

Dr. Carrera was in no hurry to pay off his former patient and also took his sweet time to sell his apartment. It wasn’t until 2011 that the apartment sold for $2 million dollars and he persuaded Ms. Anderson to falsely claim that her lien had been satisfied.

She said she agreed because “I trusted him and loved him; and I believed he would honor his word.” But Dr. Carrera was a dishonourable, irresponsible cad who continues to refuse to pay his bills, both to Ms. Anderson and his patient who was
awarded $1.4 million dollars in damages.

Last week Ms. Anderson filed a civil suit in Manhattan Supreme Court against her former lover where she wrote that she realized Carrera never intended to pay her. She is seeking $500,000 to cover her legal bill, $500,000 in a palimony claim and $2 million dollars in punitive damages.

Another case of love and legal fees being incompatible… a situation that arises more often than you may think. Many attorneys act for friends or family and suffer the same fate as Ms. Anderson, they get “stiffed” in circumstances where their friend, lover, or relative, who with effusive gratefulness accepts the legal services, refuses in the end to pay for them.

A word to the wise: If you really must act for a friend, lover, or relative, do it pro bono, or don’t do it at all.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Notables Who Failed the Bar Exam

GEO_edited-1From time to time I meet with young men and women who dream of becoming a lawyer and seek encouragement or advice on their journey to the bar. I believe the legal profession, although often maligned, is a noble calling, and to those lawyers who much has been given, much is owed.

A recent conversation with the eighteen-year-old daughter of a client, caused me to reflect on the process. After the completion of an undergraduate degree and successfully passing the Law School Admission Test, three years of law school follows. With a law degree in hand the only impediment to calling yourself a lawyer is the passing of the bar exam.

It is at this point where many people run into a roadblock. Certain of the bar exams are notorious for their difficulty, including the tests required in New York and California.

The top spot for lawyers who have failed their bar exams goes to MAXCY DEAN FILER who obtained his law degree in 1966, but failed the California Bar Exam 47 times before finally passing the exam in 1991.

By the time he was permitted to practice law, both of his sons were lawyers. He worked with one of his sons for about five years before striking out on his own. His other son is now a judge in California.

But there are many more lawyers who struggled for the right to practice law, but were forced to retake the exam. Some of the notables include:

1. MICHELLE OBAMA- A graduate of Harvard Law School, Ms. Obama failed her first try at the Illinois Bar Exam, said to be one of the easier bar exam States;

2. HILARY CLINTON- Former Secretary of State, former Senator for New York State, candidate for President of the United States, First Lady during Bill Clinton’s presidency, attended Yale Law School, wrote her bar exam in Washington DC and failed. Around the same time she wrote and passed the Arkansas Bar Exam, practicing patent law and intellectual property law. Her pro bono interests were in the area of child and family advocacy;

3. THE MAYORS- RICHARD DALEY of Chicago, ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA of Los Angeles and ED KOCH of New York;

4. THE GOVERNORS- JERRY BROWN of California, PETE WILSON of California, and DAVID PATERSON of New York;

5. PAT ROBERTSON, founder and host of the 700 Club and leader of the Christian Coalition, graduated from Yale Law School but failed the bar exam. He then abandoned law and obtained a Doctor of Divinity degree. Leader of the christian right, he is a successful businessman and entrepreneur, who founded Regent University which includes a Judeo-Christian law school.

6. KATHLEEN SULLIVAN, former Dean of Stanford Law School, Marshall scholar at Oxford, graduated from Harvard Law School in 1981, constitutional and appellate law expert, often mentioned as a candidate for the United States Supreme Court, failed the California Bar Exam, but rewrote it in 2006 and passed. Many years earlier she had been admitted to both the Massachussats and the New York bar.

It is clear that perserverance is the cornerstone of success. To all my friends, young and old, who have a dream, remember these words:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful
people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is
almost a proverb… Persistence and determination alone are
omnipotent.”
Calvin Coolidge

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Judge Sentences Family Lawyer to Jail and Hefty Fine for Alleged Sarcasm

DSC00507 (2)I guess he woke up on the wrong side of the bed….what else could explain the short-tempered reaction of Chief Judge A.J. “Buddy” Welch Jr. of Henry County Juvenile Court in Georgia to family law lawyer Ella A.S. Hughes?

In the midst of his decision to remove Ms. Hughes’ client’s children from their home and into the custody of the child protection authorities, the following exchange took place:

“Judge Welch (to Hughes): “That expression, ma’am, just cost you $100. You are removed from the court approved list.”

Hughes tries to speak up, but Welch tells her to stop.

Judge Welch: “Your sarcastic looks and your sarcastic attitude is unacceptable to this court. You are removed from the appointed list. You can reapply at some other time. You can stay on the cases that you presently have but if I ever see that action from you again I can assure you that appropriate actions will be taken. Do you understand that, ma’am?”

Hughes: “Yes, sir.”

Judge Welch: “You may not like my rulings but you can surely appeal them.”

Hughes: “If I may, Your Honor, the only thing I did was bow my head to write down what you were saying.”

Welch: “No, ma’am. You did not. Now you have tested the court’s patience. I find you in willful contempt of this court. You are fined $1,000 and you are given 10 days in jail. Take her into custody. I want the record to reflect that the attorney I just had to hold in contempt was not just bowing her head but she was giving sarcastic, unprofessional looks, body action that showed her disgust for the court’s ruling and disrespect for the court in its entirety.”

And off she went to jail…for a few minutes…paid her fine and headed to the courtroom where her next client awaited her.

The Georgia Appellate Court overturned the contempt finding made against Ms. Hughes…Just another day in the life of a trial lawyer.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang