Disclaimer: The following piece reflects the views of the author, not necessarily Rocket Matter or the Legal Productivity staff.
In Part 1 of this article, I posed the question of whether attorneys who seem obsessed with getting headlines and trying their case in the court of public opinion are unethical. At first blush, the antics of a few lawyers in Washington D.C., California, and Florida seem to violate a number of ethical prohibitions against bringing the practice of law into disrepute. I can’t remember any time in modern times so many lawyers being indicted, convicted, accused, or simply misleading the public about their clients. Many times this is due to the fact that the lawyers were in such a hurry to talk to the media that they forgot to get their facts straight.
Some attorneys (especially those who have been in the news a lot lately) rush to the press room to divulge attorney-client secrets, tape recordings of their clients, confidential aspects of their cases and more, apparently more concerned with their public image than representing their client. I wonder if any of these attorneys were paying attention when they took Professional Responsibility in law school.
It used to be that public commentary about active litigation was frowned upon. Many states limit the information that can be discussed. Apparently, especially in Washington DC, these rules have been routinely ignored. On the other side of the coin, attorneys are becoming more and more the “experts” that the media goes to for commentary about events of the day. They become news analysts for major networks ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX.
These attorneys “analyze” legal issues breaking in the news in real time, often speculating about possible outcomes or mistakes other attorneys are making. These “analysts” often criticize their fellow attorneys even though they don’t really know anything about the issue at stake. They are often asked for their opinion about things they know nothing about.
It is possible that Washington DC is in a parallel universe where ethical considerations do not concern an attorney looking for a rush for publicity. In most places in this country, if a lawyer went on public TV and criticized a judge, a fellow attorney or his client, there would be hell to pay. I am patiently anticipating sanctions against most of the headline-seeking attorneys who toss attorney-client privilege and confidentiality out the window.
Is this a case of “a few bad apples” or a disturbing trend in the legal profession? Who knows, but I can’t ever remember a time when so many lawyers were on public news giving their opinions about everything under the sun. Are they simply giving their opinion or sacrificing ethical standards for fame and profit? It may be a byproduct of so many reporters desperately seeking something to report that attorneys are now the “go-to” sources of news.
I believe that bar associations around the country are going to be forced to re-examine their public comment rules. Either the genie has escaped the bottle or bar associations are overwhelmed with the explosion of lawyers running amok in the public forum. Either way, clients are suffering.
About the Author
James Gray Robinson, Esq. was a third-generation trial attorney, specializing in family law, for 27 years in his native North Carolina up until 2004. Since then he has become an individual and business consultant who works with a wide range of people, professional organizations, and leading corporations. Robinson’s mission is for all people to have fulfilling, peaceful career experiences and work environments. At the age of 64, Gray passed the Oregon bar exam and is again a licensed attorney.