Posts Tagged ‘Arizona’

Arizona wants less zeal

David Giacalone is posting more interesting stuff at his new EthicalEsq? blog than we can hope to keep up with, particularly on the topic of excessive contingency fees (on which he challenges Public Citizen to amend its not-exactly-pro-consumer stance). One state that has taken a step in the right direction lately is Arizona, whose Supreme Court in June adopted new Rules of Professional Conduct that come down harder on overreaching fees than do the rules of the American Bar Association (Jun. 30).

In recent years Arizona has made itself into something of a laboratory for legal innovation. Of particular interest to us (see Jul. 7 commentary) is a seemingly minor one-word change to the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct (Jun. 6). To quote the court system’s press release, the change “removed the obligation of an attorney to be a ‘zealous’ advocate of his/her client and substituted to ‘act honorably’ in the furtherance of a client?s interests. According to Arizona Supreme Court Vice-Chief Justice Ruth McGregor, ‘Arizona is the first state in the country to make this crucial rule change.’ … ‘We are advised that this definitional change will also be considered by the American Bar Association,’ says McGregor. ‘This change may appear to be subtle,’ explains Chief Justice [Charles E.] Jones, ‘but in fact, it’s a very significant foundational change in the Rules of the Court, and one that is designed to send a distinct message to attorneys.’ The term ‘zealous’ was eliminated from the preamble, because it was erroneously being used by some attorneys to defend behavior that was seen as unprofessional and potentially belligerent, according to one committee member. ‘Jones explains that the State Bar committee’s recommendation … harkens back to a time when lawyers were closely identified as officers of the court. As such, they were duty bound to represent their clients with personal and professional ethics and integrity in mind.'”

We’re impressed. Time and again, in our experience, the putative obligation to represent clients in a “zealous” fashion has proved the last resort of the scoundrel litigator and ethical edge-skater. Yes, in principle there can also arise dangers when lawyers aren’t zealous enough, but no sane observer could imagine that the big problem with American litigation is that lawyers care so much for honor that they aren’t combative enough. We’ll be watching with interest to see whether the change produces any felt difference in Arizona litigation practice.

Lawyers’ advertising and solicitation generally

The following links and commentaries were written circa 1999 for

Chapter 1 of your editor’s The Litigation Explosion (1991), unfortunately not online, tells the story of how in the 1970s the mood in elite legal circles changed: client-chasing by lawyers, long considered a serious ethical breach, began to be viewed less unfavorably as litigation itself came to be seen as socially positive rather than destructive.  The shift culminated in decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court  according Constitutional protection to most lawyer advertising and some solicitation. 

Solicitation: some extreme cases

Among cases mentioned in The Litigation Explosion are those where lawyers’ agents posed as a priest to mingle among grieving families after an air crash, and as Red Cross workers to dig out and sign up survivors after a store collapse.  (Even in today’s much-relaxed climate, these sorts of practices still expose attorneys to punishment if they can be proved.)  Ken Dornstein’s book Accidentally on Purpose reports on how personal injury operators set up a supposed religious charity, the “Friends of the Friendless”, whose real function was to secure them access to patients in the giant Los Angeles County Medical Center; “techniques included pressing an unconscious patient’s inked thumb to a legal retainer and threatening those who said no with deportation”. 

This September 1998 Cincinnati Enquirer article reports on a case where a lawyer was accused of soliciting a dead man.

Lawyer promotion on the Web: 

Client-chasing lawyers pioneered spam in the notorious 1994 “green card lawyers” episode, in which an Arizona law firm posted an ad to several thousand Usenet newsgroups offering immigration services; the fury among Netizens went on for months.  This account is by David Loundy in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.

Two articles still worth a look, though written at a time when web technology was in its infancy, are “Pushing the Advertising Envelope” by T.K. Reid (State Bar of Georgia) and Mark Hankins, “Ambulance Chasers on the Internet: Regulation of Attorney Web Pages” from the Spring 1996 Journal of Technology Law and Policy (U. of Fla. Law School).  Hankins writes that “the Web is unfortunately already home to undignified attorney advertising, including a DUI attorney who sponsors a ‘drunk browsing test’ inviting users to perform the tongue-in-cheek computer equivalent of a roadside sobriety test”.  (That link is gone, however.) Reid reported, “In an informal poll I did of ten attorneys owning sites on the Web, I inquired as to what steps they had taken to insure that their page complied with their State Bar’s rules for advertising. To my great surprise several responded that they did not consider their sites to constitute advertising, and therefore had done nothing. Instead of advertising their services as an attorney, they maintained that they were acting in another role – that of a publisher of free information.”

Which brings us to “Ethics Spotlight: Attorney Malpractice for Web Site Content” by Laura W. Morgan, part of the Divorce.Net site.  Morgan looks at the question whether lawyers might be liable for offering bad advice on their websites which visitors rely on to their detriment.  The general answer is no, because law-firm websites are usually well plastered with disclaimers saying, “this isn’t real advice and don’t even think of relying on it”.  Fair enough, except that the same lawyers often aren’t so willing to respect other people’s attempts to disclaim liability.

Essay on loser-pays

The following essay was written circa 1999 by our editor and formerly appeared on the site’s topical page on loser-pays.

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America differs from all other Western democracies (indeed, from virtually all nations of any sort) in its refusal to recognize the principle that the losing side in litigation should contribute toward “making whole” its prevailing opponent.  It’s long past time this country joined the world in adopting that principle; unfortunately, any steps toward doing so must contend with deeply entrenched resistance from the organized bar, which likes the system the way it is.‘s editor wrote an account in Reason, June 1995, aimed at explaining how loser-pays works in practice and dispelling some of the more common misconceptions about the device.  He also testified before Congress when the issue came up that year as part of the “Contract with America”.  Not online, unfortunately, are most of the relevant sections from The Litigation Explosion, which argues at length for the loser-pays idea, especially chapter 15, “Strict Liability for Lawyering”.

Read On…