The existence of silly website Avvo.com has raised the excellent question of how people are to choose lawyers, if they can’t reliably do so based on Avvo’s 0-10 ratings (and they can’t). Scott Greenfield blogs about some ways to choose a lawyer. I’ll write more about the best way to choose a lawyer (specifically, a criminal-defense lawyer) soon, but for now I call your attention to the dangers of hiring a lawyer who dabbles.
Here is a post from a guy, Travis Corcoran, who got a threatening phone call from a lawyer, Robert Tourtelot. Copyright law was the context). Corcoran, who is in the business of renting out how-to videos, knew more about copyright law than Tourtelot, and knew it. He explained to Tourtelot why the lawyer was wrong. There was more back and forth, but eventually Corcoran sent an email to Tourtelot’s client, saying in part:
Your lawyer’s website says that he specializes in “real estate law” and “personal injury” law, among 12 different areas of expertise.
Nowhere does he list copyright law.
A bit of well-intentioned advice:
1) in my experience, no lawyer who does real-estate law is top notch.
2) any lawyer who claims 12 areas of expertise has ZERO areas of expertise.
3) if you have copyright concerns, you want to deal with a lawyer who does copyright, copyright, copyright, and nothing but copyright.
A good copyright lawyer would have told you during the free phone consultation that renting out DVDs is deeply settled law, and is fully legal.
I hope that Mr. Robert H. Tourtelot doesn’t charge you too much,
If you’re going to be in the business of producing copyrighted work, you really want to find a halfway decent lawyer.
(. . . and if your freedom is on the line, you really want to find a lawyer who is at least 80% decent.)
There are lawyers who hold themselves out as practicing criminal defense as well as other sorts of law. If the practice is 80% criminal defense and 20% personal injury (or family law, or probate, or whatever) — in other words, if the lawyer is dabbling in the other field of law, the lawyer might be dedicating enough effort to remain on the cutting edge of defense.
If the proportions are reversed and he’s dabbling in criminal defense, he’s not. “Any lawyer who claims 12 areas of expertise has ZERO areas of expertise” is excellent advice; any truthful experienced lawyer will tell you that this is true. It is very hard work for a lawyer to keep up with all of the advances in one area of law; it would be difficult to do so in two complementary areas of the law, and damn near impossible in three or more.
. . . Which brings us back around to Avvo’s silliness. If you search for criminal lawyers on Avvo, a lawyer whose practice is 20% criminal defense gets the same rating as a lawyer whose practice is 100% criminal defense.
(The exchange between Corcoran and Tourtelot also provides a couple of object lessons in the dynamics of the internet. First, something you say to a stranger might be spread around the world in minutes — here, Tourtelot calls Corcoran out. Second, it is extremely easy for someone (here, a non-client) to destroy a lawyer’s internet reputation. Don’t believe me? Google “Attorney Robert Tourtelot”. Granted, Tourtelot gave Corcoran a lot of help in destroying his online reputation.)
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