New Pro Bono Requirement Prior to New York Bar Admission

As if the $130,000+ law school price tag and horrific job market were not enough of a deterrent for would-be lawyers.

Starting next year, prospective lawyers must show that they have performed at least 50 hours of law-related pro bono service before being admitted to the New York state bar, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced yesterday.

The chief judge said in his annual Law Day address at the Court of Appeals that the requirement would serve a two-fold purpose: It would address the large, unmet need for lawyers to represent the poor and it would inculcate in aspiring lawyers a career-long duty to serve the public.

“If pro bono is a core value of our profession, and it is—and if we aspire for all practicing attorneys to devote a meaningful portion of their time to public service, and they should—these ideals ought to be instilled from the start, when one first aspires to be a member of the profession,” Lippman said to a crowd of judges, lawyers and legislators.

(Emphasis added). More here.

The Facebook Password Ethical Dilemma Hits Albany

To follow up yet again on the Facebook password issue (see posts from April 11th and March 24th),

If Albany County Legislature Chairman Shawn Morse has his way, employers won’t be able to look at things potential employees post on Facebook. Unless, it’s done publicly.

Morse says he plans to introduce legislation that would ban county employers from asking for prospective employees’ social media account passwords.

The full story from the Times Union can be found here.

Justice and Criminal Justice Fees

Economist Alex Tabarrok writes:

Debtor’s prisons are supposed to be illegal in the United States but today poor people who fail to pay even small criminal justice fees are routinely being imprisoned. The problem has gotten worse recently because strapped states have dramatically increased the number of criminal justice fees. In Pennsylvania, for example, the criminal court charges for police transport, sheriff costs, state court costs, postage, and “judgment.” Many of these charges are not for any direct costs imposed by the criminal but have been added as revenue enhancers. A $5 fee, for example, supports the County Probation Officers’ Firearms Training Fund, an $8 fee supports the Judicial Computer Project, a $250 fee goes to the DNA Detection Fund. Convicted criminals may face dozens of fees (not including fines and restitution) totaling a substantial burden for people of limited means. Fees do not end outside the courtroom. Jailed criminals can be charged for room and board and for telephone use, haircuts, drug tests, transportation, booking, and medical co-pays. In Arizona, visitors to a prison are now charged a $25 maintenance fee. In PA in order to get parole there is a mandatory charge of $60. While on parole, defendants may be further assessed counseling, testing and other fees. Interest builds unpaid fees larger and larger. In Washington state unpaid legal debt accrues at an interest rate of 12%. As a result, the median person convicted in WA sees their criminal justice debt grow larger over time.

Worse, these fees are often charged before the individual has been convicted. Tabarrok makes the point that while there is some appeal to passing the costs of the justice system on to its “users,” these fees put a heavy burden on those least able to pay, including both criminals, who are usually poor, and their families.  Debt related to the fees creates additional barriers to reintegration into society, thereby undermining the effectiveness of the system.

The whole post is worth reading, along with the comments.

When You are Better Off Representing Yourself

The lawyer whose work the justices had considered was the least of it; he had merely been unresponsive and incompetent. Mr. Holland’s earlier lawyers had failed him in much more colorful ways.

Consider Kenneth Delegal, who was assigned to defend Mr. Holland at a 1996 retrial on charges that he had killed a Pompano Beach police officer in 1990. Mr. Delegal was removed from the case after being sent to a mental health facility. Later, the two men would see each other at the Broward County jail, where Mr. Delegal was held on drug and domestic violence charges.

The next lawyer, James Lewis, was a friend of Mr. Delegal’s and had shared office space with him. When Mr. Delegal went to court after his removal from Mr. Holland’s case, seeking to be paid about $40,000 for his work on it, the new lawyer testified on behalf of the old one, saying the fees had been “reasonable and necessary.”

Mr. Delegal died of a drug overdose about a month after the fee hearing, and a local paper asked his former colleague Mr. Lewis about his troubles. “I heard some rumors,” Mr. Lewis said, “but I chose not to know.”   [. . .]

However, upon waiving your right to court-appointed counsel, be careful not to represent yourself too effectively:

As proof that Mr. Holland was no longer mentally ill, Judge Greene praised him as an able advocate who had “correctly argued case law and factual issues to the court.” His legal skills, then, were proof that he was fit to be executed — but not good enough that he be allowed to defend himself.

From the New York Times.  More here.

Lawmakers Heed Facebook’s Ethical Advice

Following up on a prior post (March 24th), Maryland has quickly enacted legislation prohibiting employers from asking for social media passwords, and it looks like Congress may be stirring on this issue, too: 

If you’re worried about an employer or potential employer asking for your Facebook or Twitter password, you might just want to move to Maryland. The state’s General Assembly has become the first to pass a bill to keep social media passwords safe from employers.

Just a few weeks ago national attention was put on the issue of job applicants and employees being asked for their Facebook passwords so that companies could ensure the individuals had appropriate social media identities.

In response, New York Sen. Charles Schumer and Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate if the practice violates federal laws.

The full ABC News story can be found here.  Maybe the fired elementary school teacher’s aide should move to Maryland.

Can a New York Attorney Use Google Docs?

David Hricik posed the following question on The Legal Ethics Forum:

When you use Google Docs, you give Google the following license to “Content” which is, basically, everything you put up:

11. Content license from you

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

11.2 You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.

11.3 You understand that Google, in performing the required technical steps to provide the Services to our users, may (a) transmit or distribute your Content over various public networks and in various media; and (b) make such changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to the technical requirements of connecting networks, devices, services or media. You agree that this license shall permit Google to take these actions.

11.4 You confirm and warrant to Google that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the above license.

Query whether this is ethical for lawyers to use?

Subsequent to Hricik’s original post, a commentator posted additional language from a related document that adds the following limitation on Google’s bolded rights: “for the sole purpose of enabling Google to provide you with the Service in accordance with the Google Docs Privacy Policy.”

Here are some relevant portions of the Google Docs Privacy Policy:

Information We Share

We do not share personal information with companies, organizations and individuals outside of Google unless one of the following circumstances apply:

. . .

For legal reasons

We will share personal information with companies, organizations or individuals outside of Google if we have a good-faith belief that access, use, preservation or disclosure of the information is reasonably necessary to:

  • meet any applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable governmental request.
  • enforce applicable Terms of Service, including investigation of potential violations.
  • detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues.
  • protect against harm to the rights, property or safety of Google, our users or the public as required or permitted by law.

The New York State Bar Association Committee on Professional Ethics has addressed the storage of documents in the cloud in Opinion #842 (the link is here), concluding as follows:

We conclude that a lawyer may use an online “cloud” computer data backup system to store client files provided that the lawyer takes reasonable care to ensure that the system is secure and that client confidentiality will be maintained. “Reasonable care” to protect a client’s confidential information against unauthorized disclosure may include consideration of the following steps:

  • Ensuring that the online data storage provider has an enforceable obligation to preserve confidentiality and security, and that the provider will notify the lawyer if served with process requiring the production of client information;
  • Investigating the online data storage provider’s security measures, policies, recoverability methods, and other procedures to determine if they are adequate under the circumstances;
  • Employing available technology to guard against reasonably foreseeable attempts to infiltrate the data that is stored.

Based on the foregoing, it appears that the answer to David’s question for New York attorneys is, in a word, “no.”  At least not on the terms quoted above, even as modified by the rider. An attorney has no “enforceable obligation” against Google which requires Google to preserve the confidentiality of the attorney’s documents

The rider doesn’t even come close to creating the level of protection described in Opinion #482. Perhaps the New York or American Bar Association should develop a standard agreement that cloud document providers must incorporate if they want attorney business? Otherwise, the individual attorney doesn’t have much negotiating power and isn’t going to be able to get the terms she needs.  At least not out of Google.   

By the way, did you know that Google is in the legal services business

Link Ethically

1. Botox is not exempt from New York State sales tax.

2. The power of strategic inferiority.

But sometimes the most successful innovations involve coming up with inferior products, but making them cheaper and more convenient. So it was with the late Murray Lender, former CEO of Lender’s Bagels, who passed away last week at the age of 81.

Rest in peace, Murray.

3. Is there anything wrong with defendants wearing nonprescription glasses?

According to the Post, nonprescription “hipster” glasses have become something of a sensation at Washington, D.C., courthouses. Inmates trade them before hearings or obtain them from family members. Sometimes lawyers give them to their clients.

We all know that wearing glasses doesn’t mean that you are smart, or that you necessarily read a lot. You would think that the frequency of defendants wearing glasses would, at some point, lead people to perceive the wearing of glasses as being indicative of a less trustworthy personality.  See Exhibit “A” below.

4. On “greenwashing,” and the lawsuits related thereto.

As the world increasingly embraces the mantra of green products and services, the legal community is encountering a proliferation of litigation surrounding false and misleading environmental marketing claims. Popularly called “greenwashing,” this recent, albeit alarming, phenomenon merges the concepts of “green” (environmentally sound), and “whitewashing” (to gloss over wrongdoing) to describe the deceptive use of green marketing which promotes a misleading perception that a company’s policies, practices, products or services are environmentally friendly. “Eco-Friendly,” “organic,” “natural,” and “green” are just some everyday examples of widely used labels that can be confusing, even misleading.