The word “legacy” seems to be top of mind these days. Legacy can have different meanings — some good, some not so good. A legacy can be a gift, something received from a predecessor, or connote special status because of a familial relationship.
Recently, legacy has taken on several unsavory meanings. One example: In the United States, the Department of Education is looking into Harvard’s legacy admissions history, especially in light of the recent Supreme Court decision banning considerations of race in admissions policy.
Meanwhile, closer to home, the legacy of disgraced, disbarred lawyer Tom Girardi continues. In the most recent iteration, the state bar has suspended approximately 1600 lawyers for noncompliance with the client-trust account reporting rules put into place after the Girardi debacle, where he allegedly pilfered millions in settlement funds that were due to clients. The new Client Trust Account Protection Program “requires attorneys to register their client trust accounts annually with the state bar, complete a yearly self-assessment of their practices managing client trust accounts and certify with the state bar that they comply and understand the requirements for safekeeping funds.” The suspensions are administrative, not disciplinary. There are no allegations in the suspensions that any attorney in that cohort has ripped off any client.
The bar wants to be proactive in taking measures to make sure that active attorneys who have client trust accounts (and that’s not necessarily all active lawyers as there are some active lawyers who do not handle client funds) toe the trust account reporting lines. No one, least of all the bar, which is under constant legislative scrutiny, wants the Girardi legacy to continue.
On another Girardi front, the hearing as to whether Girardi is competent to stand trial on the various criminal charges is set for later in August. The hearing may well turn into a battle of experts. There are already mental health professionals for both sides. However, the court may allow lay witnesses on the issue of whether Girardi was faking or whether he truly had lost mental capacity at the times at issue in the criminal cases.
Given the writers and actors strikes here in Tinseltown (losing its luster as the strikes wear on), the unionization of associates at a firm raises all sorts of interesting issues, including, but not limited to ethical ones. Is this the first event in a trend toward unions of associates in law firms? If so, what would that mean for pay, promotions, and other aspects of employment? What if unionized associates walk off the job in a dispute? Would that be considered client abandonment? (Yes, I know that the partners would need to get the work done, but how would that happen?) If there are no associates to do the work, how does the work get done? How are clients handled? What about immovable deadlines such as statutes of limitations? I’m just asking.
One of the major bones of contention in both the writers’ and actors’ strikes is the use of AI and whether it will replace actors (use of likenesses, etc.) and writers (ChatGPT). One law school has OK’d the use of AI in the admissions process. Arizona State University says it’s confident in its ability to suss out misuse and be able to maintain integrity of the process. Isn’t that the kind of thinking that the plaintiff lawyers used in the recent case that brought sanctions down on them because they relied on ChatGPT to their detriment?
What if law firms were to use AI to replace striking associates? What about the impact of AI on paralegals and legal assistants? Can AI be trusted? Relied upon to provide accurate legal research? The ultimate responsibility for legal assistants and paralegals lies in the lap of the supervising attorney. AI doesn’t have to stand in front of an irritated court and try to explain an “oopsie.” Nor does AI pay sanctions.
Various judges have been urging law firms to give junior lawyers opportunities to argue motions, a skill that junior lawyers need to have if they are ever able to progress as lawyers appearing in court. However, one district court judge has a different take on that: if a court strongly suggests that a more junior lawyer be allowed to argue a motion, could that be seen as interfering with the attorney client relationship? Whose client is it? The firm’s? The relationship lawyer’s? What do you think? It’s the age-old conundrum of how do you gain the experience you need in order to be permitted to perform those tasks that give you experience? Briefcase carrying is not why peeps went to law school.
And I am not making this up. Sharing racy videos on TikTok is not in any judicial job description. A New Jersey Superior Court judge faces disciplinary charges for a number of those videos, which show him lip-syncing rap songs from various locations, including the courthouse. Conduct unbecoming? What was he thinking?
Just another example of the perils of social media.
Jill Switzer has been an active member of the State Bar of California for over 40 years. She remembers practicing law in a kinder, gentler time. She’s had a diverse legal career, including stints as a deputy district attorney, a solo practice, and several senior in-house gigs. She now mediates full-time, which gives her the opportunity to see dinosaurs, millennials, and those in-between interact — it’s not always civil. You can reach her by email at email@example.com.