Future’s Hope

The other J-Dog, at Restoring Dignity to the Law, opines that Joseph Rakofsky is also a symptom of one of the fundamental problems of attorney oversupply and writes:

I’m ultimately your ally, Joseph, because you’re a victim, just like most of our generation of law graduates. To make it into and through law school, you obviously have higher than average intelligence. And it’s clear that you have an entrepreneurial spirit. You apparently made a series of major mistakes, but honestly, I don’t think it’s your fault. You entered a system that, sadly, is rigged against people like you and me. You were given an accredited education and a law license and told to “go get ’em.” You did that, and now you’re being punished because you decided to hang a shingle and do what it was you thought you were trained to do. I think you were foolish, absolutely, but the ultimate blame, I think, goes directly to the system that produced you (and, it appears, your current attorney).

Jennifer Lubinski writes:

This is not a post about Joseph Rakofsky.  This is a story about Francis, a young lawyer who caught a bad break, who worked hard and was willing to learn from people more experienced than he was.  This is a story about a lawyer who will probably never make the pages of the AmLaw Reporter or the Wall Street Journal or Above the Law or Twitter and doesn’t care, because he enjoys his job and is proud of what he does.  This is a story about a good lawyer.  We need more of them.

Maybe Rakofsky was doing what he was trained to do, but somehow there are lawyers like “Francis” of Rakofsky’s generation who don’t do what Rakofsky did (by which I mean “marketing himself deceptively, including paying Yodle to do his deceptive advertising for him,” rather than “taking on a case that he was not competent to handle without adult supervision”) and succeed nevertheless. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive.

Lubinski’s “Francis” reminded me of a Houston lawyer I know. I’ve been meaning to blog about him for a few weeks now. He’s a young lawyer, licensed since 2008, practicing immigration and criminal-defense law in Houston and somehow—without any of the puffery and false advertising that occasionally gets lawyers in trouble here—making a living. He’s active in the local criminal-defense bar, and is obviously very dedicated, hardworking, knowledgeable, and intelligent. I referred an immigration matter to him recently, connected with one of my criminal cases, and he did a sterling job of handling it.

I wanted to give him props and maybe steer a little business his way. Which I’ll do, but not here. Why? Because he’s asked that I not use his name in connection with the subject matter of this post. Recently he sent me an email that, frankly, blew me away:

I need online lawyer marketing help.

So I added [recent well-deserved honors] and now my rating is too high, 9.9. Everything on the page is totally legit, there’s no puffery at all (really!). I don’t want unwelcome attention. Do I take items off the page?

Yes, you read that right: he’s concerned that his Avvo rating is too high and wants to know whether he should remove information to game Avvo’s algorithm into giving him a lower rating. He went on to contrast himself with some of the local criminal-defense lawyers with “10” ratings.

Granted, this lawyer is exceptional. Very few lawyers of any age would consider tricking the dumb algorithm to reduce their rating to where they see themselves; most lawyers wouldn’t even admit that they see themselves as anything less than a perfect ten.

And granted, I have seen many lawyers who, still slick with mold release from law school, try to present themselves to the world (and even to the local criminal-defense bar, who definitely can tell the difference) as gods of the courtroom.

But I believe—not because I’ve done any sort of census but because I choose to believe it—that there are more young lawyers like Francis than young lawyers like Rakofsky. More lawyers whose ethical compass points true and who heed that compass, than lawyers who will rationalize lying for a buck. Recessionary times and an oversupply of lawyers make it harder for the marginally ethical to behave ethically, but there will always be lawyers whose ethics are so extreme that they would rather go hungry than deceive to get a case; I believe that these lawyers are in the majority.

This is fortunate, because it is these lawyers—and not the relentless self-aggrandizers—who will lead the criminal-defense bar in decades to come; it is these lawyers—and not the ruthless marketers—whom those accused of serious crimes will seek out when my generation is worn out; it is these lawyers—and not Yodle’s and FindLaw’s clientele—who stand a chance of making a good living defending the citizen accused and the Constitution.

11 responses to “Future’s Hope”

  1. Finally! Somebody who realizes how dumb the Avvo rankings are. I don’t get how filling out a profile makes you a better lawyer. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that the highest ranking attorneys in my town are not lawyers I would want to represent me. Hopefully the public understands this issue. I’ve had this discussion via twitter with Josh King of Avvo, and basically agreed to disagree.

  2. I agree. I think we may be making headway in this battle. I think there is a groundswell of pushback against unethical marketing. No tremors yet, but there’s a slight breeze in the air.

  3. Maybe I still suffer from mold release; but, I don’t understand why he wants to lower his Avvo rating. Is this something specific to criminal-defense practice?

    • Because he is able to compare himself objectively to other local lawyers, and he knows that he’s not yet 99% the lawyer that, say, Tyrone Moncriffe is. So he sees the 9.9 as deceptive.

      I told him that rather than trying to fix it, he should concentrate on earning it.

      • Mark:

        That makes sense; I should’ve realized that from the start considering the blog article.

  4. Mr. B., excuses, excuses, excuses. From one side of his neck, J-Dog offers up his attempt to ally himself with a bro from another law school. From the other side he spanks him while wiping his butt.

    Gotta grow a pair and call it what it is folks and refuse to blame it on the frigin recession and over supply of lawyers/attorneys. When one knowingly & willingly pads their resume, yellow page ad, or lies right to your face in the interview and receives a retainer, it’s deception and wrong.

    We supposedly have the best legal system on the planet but in reality the deck is stacked in a crooked system when it’s OK, accepted and legal for ex: Divorce & Estate specialist to take felony cases to jury trials. Do little or no work at all and walk away with no consequences. In Texas you can even sleep while representing (SWR). This is what powers and enables the dip shits like Rakofsky to be all they can be plus, plus. Thanks.

    Q. Since we can’t do anything about lying/sleepy dirt bags with ties, I ask are there any chances that this loophole will be addressed and sealed up in the near future? If left ignored you ‘real’ CDLs will continue to see your reputation and industry tarnished due to the side effects of fakers & shakers in the well. The innocent client will continue to plead out at lunch recess and the taxpayer gets the bill.

    • Thomas:

      Just to clarify, I do not condone Rakofsky’s Internet marketing, resume-padding, or deception. I never have, and I never will. Rakofsky’s whole course of action is dumb, wrong, and a gazillion other adjectives. I also object to any characterization of ass-wiping; need I remind you, my URL is a listed defendant, and I’ve called him an idiot repeatedly.

      But morality is only completely black and white to fools. In judging his actions, I think it would be folly to ignore the system that bred him and pin the problem sole on one individual’s failings. To spare you my hour-long lecture, we currently have a legal education system that licenses 12,000 extra attorneys each year than the market demands. These recent graduates are generally devoid of practical legal knowledge, up to their hairline in non-dischargable debt, and carrying a degree that limits their job prospects.

      In such situations (and the current one isn’t merely recessionary), the temptation to behave unethically rises dramatically. A starving man is more likely to steal, even if stealing is wrong. Already this year we had a foreclosure mill in Florida that was hiring 20-something law graduates to serve as cogs in an unethical operation. Rakofsky is another example. Many more never make the news, but the point is that a unique set of historical forces have made this generation’s motivation to behave on the margins skyrocket.

      That doesn’t mean it’s “right” or even “justified,” it just means there are problems in the system that need correcting just as badly as Rakofsky needs kicked in the buttocks. But instead we have law school deans who actually tell their recent graduates to be a solo attorney and not turn their nose up at cases. In February, I can virtually guarantee you that Touro’s administration would have been thrilled with Rakofsky’s course of action. Given his competence, that’s a problem, don’t you think?

      In any event, Mark is more optimistic than I am on this point. Seeing how socioeconomics and elitist greed are killing my generation, I’ve become a pessimist about human nature in general, including ethics. Many in the current generation see puffery as the only way to stand out in a very crowded field. They’ve been bred to put everything imaginable on their resume, and judging my some linkedin profiles I’ve seen recently, I have absolutely no doubt it will continue into the future.

      Yes, we should applaud “Francis.” But when there’s 200 applications for a part-time temporary job that pays 12 bucks an hour, “Francis’” honesty and work ethic will not even get him an interview. Flattery and puffery will, and I’m concerned the system will inadvertently weed out many of those people.

    • As a CDL, I agree with about divorce and estate lawyers just walking into criminal court and taking cases.

      In my jurisdiction, real estate lawyers who have seen their practices evaporate are stumbling into court handling criminal cases by undercutting in price from what real CDL’s would charge.

      The problem in criminal law is:
      1. The State and judge will not crucify you if you don’t know what your doing. If the sentencing range is 0-5 years in prison, a great lawyer might get 30 days, a mediocre one 50 days, and a know nothing real estate lawyer will get 100 days in jail. Worse than having a competent lawyer who’s part of the club, but the State and judge won’t give him 4 years in prison. Why should they?

      2. The Bar and malpractice court aren’t going to say “you should’ve negotiated for less time”. Almost everything in criminal can be justified as strategy; so real estate lawyers aren’t afraid of malpractice or beefs.

      So the real estate lawyers bumble into criminal because they’d be too afraid to bumble into other practice areas.

      • It’s not the fact that encourages real-estate lawyers to dabble in criminal court, but the perception, and that perception is false. Only someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing could think that the difference between knowing and not knowing is as insignificant as you suggest.

        Tremendous damage is done by incompetent lawyers in the criminal courthouse. Where a great lawyer might get you acquitted and a mediocre one might get you probation, a know-nothing real-estate lawyer might get you pen time.

      • Mr. Balleropoulos, it’s a crying shame, that out of all of the CDLs that follow DP, you are the only one that took the time to publicly state your disagreement.

        Thanks for standing up for the profession as a whole and pointing out that this krapola is occurring nation wide. The innocent client(s) that you represent have nothing to fear at lunch recess. Thanks.

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