The law is a self-mocking profession. There’s no need to make fun of it or its practitioners because so many of them are doing such a great job of making themselves the subject of fun. They just need a little spotlight for the comedy to come alive. I like to think that from time to time I provide that spotlight, and maybe a little context so that the layperson can better appreciate the jokes.
I know that there are some stuffy establishment lawyers who think that it’s bad for lawyers to cast the profession in an unfavorable light, but I disagree. Only those who think the profession depends on fraud for its prestige ought to object to the casting of a truthful light on the profession. To those who believe that this venture in which we are engaged is a worthy one that stands on its own merits, there is no downside to casting light on the unethical and the clownish on the bench and in the bar. When I call your attention to the hijinks of some yahoo lawyer or judge, I’m increasing knowledge and improving the profession.
Bart Craytor, upon whom I might have shined a little light, disagrees with me. He writes, “I think it best for the legal profession as a whole, not to make mockery of our colleagues and courts casting a tainted shade over our own very profession.”
In what I wish were a finely-honed comic turn, Craytor’s admonition not to make mockery of our colleagues follows on the heels of this sentence:
Perhaps, someday, Mr. Bennett may have the privilege to know me.
Self-mocking, I tell you.
Craytor also writes, in justification of his requesting the endorsements of strangers:
Avvo is a marketing avenue. It provides an internet presence.
This is true, I suppose, but not a defense.
The Internet has done a great deal of harm to the legal profession—and I say this not as someone who is afraid of the Internet but as one of the first lawyers to take to the Internet early in their careers. Lawyers who have been convinced that they need an “internet presence” have taken to the Internet as though it’s a place where truth doesn’t matter.
The callowest young lawyer puts up a website in which he calls himself “The Law Offices of Maverick Ray” (he has one office), “An Experienced Houston Sex Crimes Lawyer Your Freedom Can Depend On” (he has been licensed for less than eight months and been hired on one felony sex case), “the Assassin of Suppression” (Harris County records show no granted suppression motions in drug cases), “Houston’s premier DWI Attorney” (I wonder what Gary Trichter or Troy McKinney, or Lewis Dickson, to name but three of Houston’s top DWI lawyers, with decades of experience each—[edit: not to mention Tyler Flood]—would have to say about that), “often opting to let a jury determine whether someone was truly intoxicated rather than the highly flawed Field Sobriety Tests, Breath Tests, or Blood Tests” (District Clerk records do not show him trying a single DWI case in Harris County during those eight months).
Maybe all of this can somehow be rationalized in a callow young lawyer’s mind, but it just isn’t true. Maverick is a nice kid, but I think he’s committing large-scale fraud on potential clients. Even if it’s factual, it’s deceptive. I am saddened and disappointed, and I see no way for this to end well for him.
But—for now at least—it works. Ray gets at least three new cases a week on average, mostly felonies. I don’t know how much he’s charging—whatever it is, it’s too much—but it doesn’t take big fees to turn 94 cases in a little over seven months into serious money.
At any rate, the Maverick Rays of the legal profession put up deceptive websites and take cases that they are not competent to handle. They think there’s nothing wrong with it because that’s what they see other lawyers do, and the State Bar doesn’t police lawyer advertising very well. Here’s what Ray had to say when I gave him a chance to take down his site—be the student or be the lesson—before I posted this: “What do you mean deceptive? It was approved by Texas Bar and is no different than countless other attorneys websites.”
Nothing about that justification works. Nothing makes Maverick Ray a “premier” DWI lawyer. Nothing makes him an “experienced” sex crimes lawyer. But the Texas Bar doesn’t bother to look real closely; they’re looking for violations of the objective rules, and often aren’t looking very closely for those. And “everyone else is doing it” has never been a good excuse for bad behavior.
The tier of lawyers above Maverick Ray—lawyers who have some experience but who, for whatever reason, seek only small fees—see Ray’s marketing and think that they are losing business, so they get online and, like Maverick Ray, they don’t worry a whole lot about the truth of their marketing—it’s a marketing avenue; it provides an internet presence. The next tier of lawyers—lawyers who cost a little more, and maybe have a little more experience—see them getting online. They slap something together, or pay someone to do it for them, without a lot of fidelity to the truth.
Each layer of lawyer cake takes its cues from the layer below, rather than from the layer above. This is the race to the bottom of which Scott Greenfield so often writes. And it’s a very thin slice of criminal-defense lawyer cake that is immune to this race to the bottom, if cake can be said to be immune to a race. Most criminal-defense lawyers are (I say this with love) so ragingly insecure that they will pay just about anything for a little bit of validation.
There’s a racket for every layer of the cake—rackets like FindLaw, and R.W. Lynch, and Yodle, and the “National Trial Lawyers” (since 2010, per whois records) of Dothan, Alabama’s Top 100 Trial Lawyers, which, contrary to its name, has 195 lawyers in Houston alone, each of whom has paid for the dubious honor of being listed. Houston appears to have more “Top 100” lawyers than any other US city; some very good lawyers are paying a couple hundred bucks a year for the ego stroke of knowing (and advertising) that some entrepreneurs in Dothan, Alabama, population 68,000, call them “Top 100.” I don’t know whether we Houston criminal-defense lawyers are more insecure than lawyers in Chicago or Miami or L.A. (inconceivable!) or New York, or whether “National Trial Lawyers” have just done a better job of marketing themselves here.
That’s where the real money is: taking advantage of the raging insecurities of trial lawyers. Those Givens boys in Dothan are smart (I’ll write more about them soon), but I want to be a damn genius. I’m gonna buy “InternationalTrialLawyers.org,” incorporate, and sell 10,000 “Top 10 lawyers” plaques at $2,000 a pop.
Maybe I can get Maverick Ray to buy one.