Monday, November 2, 2009

You Must Go Bust

A friend sent me an item from the Toledo Blade about a Toledo-area lawyer who filed for personal bankruptcy protection.  The Toledo Blade reports "Attorney goes bust after losing suit."

Get this, the suit was 18 years ago.  The Judge in the case--long dead.  So why was this bankruptcy of interest to the Blade?

It turns out that the "suit" lost 18 years earlier (by this bankrupt attorney), was a libel action against the Blade, and the Blade has a long memory.

Now granted this lawyer appears not to have been the sharpest knife in the drawer.  In the lawsuit that our bankrupt lawyer lost 18 years ago, the County Judge said that Mr George C. Rogers (the attorney who went bust) and his co-counsel were "lazy, shabby, [and] inexcusably negligent."  the Judge characterized their briefs and the research that they did as "untrustworthy."  Ouch!

Sanctions were imposed against Mr. Rogers and his co-counsel in the amount of $18,981 which were paid by the lawyers in 2000.

It is not unreasonable to assume that the Blade in publishing this article was doing the victory lap around the financial bones of Mr.George C. Rogers.  It goes without saying that the article by reporter Erica Blake was entirely misleading; losing the lawsuit to the Toledo Blade does not appear to have had any relationship to the bankruptcy, but then again who knows.  Let me add and I hope this BLAWG-post doesn't appear to be a gratuitous attack upon the Toledo Blade.  The Blade is an awesome newspaper, it won a Pulitizer prize a number of years ago for it's coverage of the Catholic Clergy Scandals which repeatedly quoted me (I am not a Toledo attorney), and I am not knocking the paper.  I am empathizing with the brother, bad lawyer--Mr. Rogers.

You see, I do know that lawyers lose lawsuits.  Sometimes, lawyers are so bad, that they lose the lawsuit in spectacular fashion--through their own stupidity, or incompetence.  More often, the loss is the outcome of the evidence and the law as perceived by the jury or the judge.  Just the OUTCOME.

When I was a young litigator I thought I was in charge of the OUTCOME.  This mindset made me a terrible attorney.  I distorted everything I presented in court in a misguided effort to zealously represent my client, in otherwords to get money for my client and me.  This approach made me unreliable and untrustworthy.  As a consequence I was ineffective, to a degree where I couldn't trust my own judgments let alone anything that came out of my mouth. Thank God!, a judge had mercy on me.   Judge H. told me I was full of shit and that I needed to make a big change or get out. I changed.  The overall outcomes for clients improved dramatically.  Maybe the outcomes improved because with better judgment I took better cases, but I know I started to do just my job--simple advocacy:  present the facts unvarnished and let the outcomes be determined by the judges and juries.

Lawyers are messengers, not the message--even good lawyer forget this fact at their client's peril.  The Lawyer's job is to create the scenario for and supply the evidence for just and appropriate outcomes.  Then get out of the way.

True, there are lousy  and unjust OUTCOMES attributable (in the rare circumstance) to crooked or corrupt judges, to incompetent judges, or (most instances to) judges who make mistakes.  In some cases the lawyer dared to try to extend the reach of the remedies and mercies of the law to clients who traditionally get no remedies.   This latter approach--daring to reach for remedies is the Bad Lawyer Way.  It is the path to sanctions, condemnation and ridicule, and the path to"going bust."

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