Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Friday, March 18, 2005

It appears that the Schadenfreude Parade has been postponed. If you are here because you searched for information about a certain prominent plaintiff's personal injury firm, the entry you are looking for is dated March 11, 2005.

Nobody is covering themselves with glory on this: gossip is nasty; the things that are claimed cast our glamour profession in a bad light; and I continue to be troubled by what certainly appears to be a breach of confidentiality. From time to time the idea of making attorney disciplinary proceedings more transparent is floated, and when the idea is rejected there is always grumbling, but the fact is that reputations are all that we have in this business, and reputations are very fragile things. I have no way of knowing about the claims I am hearing, but I am hearing quite a lot. Even if some percentage of what I hear is true, it is unfair to everyone who works at the firm to be gossiping about things that only the involved principals, the hearing officer, the judges of the Appellate Division and its staff have any way of having personal knowledge about. That's why our profession comes down on the side of confidentiality when changes to the system are proposed. Lawyers self-police, and although the system is far from perfect, for the most part it is pretty effective. It is not made more so by the sort of Coliseum atmosphere that seems to be consuming this particular episode-- in fact, that sort of thing diminishes all lawyers, and does our reputation as a profession no favors.

A friend is fond of noting that when parties are working a deal, and they need someone to hold the money, they don't trust each other, and they don't trust the other guy's accountant, but they'll trust the other guy's lawyer. In my own practice I have seen cases settle for millions of dollars on the word of my adversary-- every case settles on the word of another lawyer, more or less. We can operate in this way because we self police, and because we know that as lawyers we can be depended upon to keep our word. Making a spectacle out of an investigation arising out allegations that the trust placed in a lawyer was violated drags each of us a little lower than we started out. If true, then true-- let the chips fall where they may. But carrying on as though anything other than the truth has a rooting interest is unprofessional. At the close of business today, nobody knows nothin' about nothin'. If that changes, the time for commenting will commence, and adjudicated facts will be out there for comment. Until that time, we should tend our own gardens.

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