If there’s one thing the internet is great at, it’s exposing and carefully preserving embarrassing moments you wish would fade. For most, a worst-case-scenario usually involves a cringe-worthy video or a Facebook wardrobe malfunction. For some, such as legal professionals, having regrettable lapses in online judgment can have very real-word implications for both attorney and client… and as you will see, pleading ignorance won’t get you off the hook.
Here are our picks for the nine worst instances of online attorney meltdowns, lawsuits, and outbursts in the past couple years.
9. A Recent Law School Grad Tries to Sue “The Internet”
Back in 2009 Joseph Rakofsky was a fresh law school grad who seemed to have it all — credentials, a murder case about to hit trial, and a life of practicing law ahead of him. But, after bungling his murder trial so seriously that the judge declared it a mistrial, a bunch of legal bloggers took to the virtual streets to discredit his skill as an attorney (as well as expose some gaps in what seemed to be an illustrious curriculum vitae).
But Rakofsky didn’t take this news sitting down. Instead, he filed suit against more than 20 bloggers, lawyers, and newspapers in hopes of clearing his good name. The suit itself was resolved only recently, and in a shocking turn of events, the courts ruled against Rakofsky.
TechDirt has the full story here.
8. Revealing Client Information on Avvo Leads to Disciplinary Complaint
With the importance of online reviews these days, it’s important to understand that while your great clients will often leave glowing reviews, the not-so-great ones will do the (not-so-great) opposite. Enter Betty Tsamis, who accepted a $1,500 flat fee in order to secure unemployment benefits for a client who had been fired from his job at an airline. After Tsamis failed to secure benefits for her client, the client turned to the internet and left an angry review. This particular review was posted on Avvo.com, and was eventually removed by the website.
After the client republished a shorter version of his negative review, Tsamis allegedly responded with the following:
“I dislike it very much when my clients lose, but I cannot invent positive facts for clients when they are not there. I feel badly for him, but his own actions in beating up a female co-worker are what caused the consequences he is now so upset about.”
Obviously, that didn’t go over well, and the resulting disciplinary matter is still ongoing.
The ABAJournal has the full scoop here.
7. Criminal Defense Attorney Has Mugshot Appear Next to His Own Ad
When you hire an attorney, there’s a certain baseline of expectation: not even that they’ll win, but simply that they aren’t active criminals themselves (call us picky). But, that was apparently too much to ask in the hilariously ironic case of criminal defense attorney Thomas Lewis Edwards. If nothing else, at least Edwards is dedicated: his rap sheet boasts a hit-and-run, a DWI, property damage, and refusing to submit to a breathalyzer.
Now certainly, everyone is deserving of a second chance. The problem, in this case, is that second chances are difficult when your Adwords ad ends up appearing on one of those mugshot websites right alongside your own mugshot.
6. Surprisingly, Social Media Pro Not a Lawyer
Kathleen A. Scanlon is a real estate attorney. No, hold on — that’s incorrect, she’s actually a social media consultant. Lawyer. Consultant? Who knows. After pleading guilty to mortgage fraud in 2009, Scanlon, not to be deterred by something like being banned from lawyerhood forever, remade herself as a self-styled social media consultant. She was eventually found out and exposed. In the words of Adrianos Facchetti, “You are what Google says you are.”
Get the full story on Social Media Tyro.
5. Lawyers Suing Over Bad Reviews
Perhaps attorney Paul Nordini had never used the internet before. If he had, he would know that 90% of bad reviews come from disgruntled customers who are motivated enough to take the time to complain through their keyboards. If someone is motivated enough to write a negative review, they probably can’t be bullied into taking that review down.
That is exactly how it played out. When Illinois resident Joe LaBarre blasted Nordini’s firm as being “exceptionally unethical” on Google Plus, Nordini decided to live up to the criticism by first demanding that he take the review down, and then by filing a lawsuit. The case is still ongoing.
CBS Chicago reports.
4. Twitter Meltdown
Ah, Twitter — a refuge for pointless updates on lunch sandwiches, opinions about how annoying celebrities are, and… telling people to “Go f**k yourself and die,” apparently. You might expect as much from someone who was not posting from their business account, but Steven M. Regan, a partner at the (fairly large) law firm of Reed Smith, accidentally expressed how he really felt from his Reed Smith branded account.
After the incident, reporters from Above The Law were coincidentally met with this out-of-office message: “I will be out of the office on Wednesday, October 16, 2013 attending a family funeral. I will return to the office on Thursday, October 17, 2013. I will have limited access to voicemail and email.” Not limited enough, I guess.
Read more at Above The Law.
3. Patent Attorney Meltdown
Some people, like Steven Regan, have their meltdowns on Twitter. Others, like Los Angeles patent attorney Andrew Schroeder, prefer to have their meltdowns in form of letters sent to the local patent office. After one too many patent rejections, Schroeder let forth an elegant rant that would have done Kerouac proud. Some highlights include: “Are you drunk? No, seriously…are you drinking scotch and whiskey with a side of crack cocaine while you ‘examine’ patent applications?” and, “Have you even read the patent application? I’m curious. Because you either haven’t read the patent application or are… (I don’t want to say the ‘R’ word) ‘Special.'” Well, at least he was polite about it. The whole thing ended up coming out when Above the Law obtained copies of the letters.
Above The Law reports again.
2. Take a Look at My Huge… Social Media Presence
If the internet is 90% furious, incoherent blocks of text, at least 8% is pictures of junk. (Y’know, like old calculators and stuff.) Sensing opportunity, a young and hopeful law school graduate by the name of Brian Zulberti decided to whip out his… legal credentials. Actually, no. He took pictures of his penis and put them all over the internet. In the name of social justice. Maybe one of the thousands of attorneys he’s emailed about his “cause” can shed some light on just what exactly Zulberti was trying to accomplish.
We’ll say this much for Zulberti: at least he wasn’t telling anyone to go f**k themselves and die.
Read more at Above The Law.
1. Get off my Twitter Hashtag!
This one is my absolute personal favorites. During the 2012 Legal Marketing Technology Conference, Larry Bodine of Lawyers.com (although I think he recently left) was hoping to build the social presence of his conference by encouraging participants to tweet using the #lmatech hashtag throughout the conference. A rebellious group of dissenters caught on to the trending hashtag, and promptly started filling the feed with some “sage” advice per the quote from the infamous Brian Tannenbaum below:
After picking up on the offending tweets, Bodine encouraged his participants to report the offending twitter accounts –only to face blowback concerning his knowledge of Twitter and who actually “owns” hashtags (hint, no one). All the social media gurus in the world couldn’t spin this one back together.
Popehat has the full story here.
Did we get the order right? Leave your comments.