On Lawyer Advertising, Free Speech, Personal Injury Law, Ethics and Decency

own-worst-fool-150This is  a story about Eric and Jack, who both blog about the law with an eye on topics that are enlightening, ennobling, or at least entertaining.

By now you’ve probably heard about Eric Turkewitz, who wrote an April 1st post in his NY Personal Injury Law Blog announcing he was the new Whitehouse blogger. He recruited other legal bloggers to echo the post, so they could punk unsuspecting political bloggers who type first and check facts later.

The stunt captured a wider set of dupes than expected. In fact, none other than the New York Times ran with the story. Suddenly, the little geeky joke was everywhere. Here’s Turkewitz’s explanation of the stunt.

Why the hell would I go to all this trouble for an April Fools’ stunt?

I’m glad you asked: Lawyers often deal with misery. Peoples’ lives can be forever changed in a fraction of a second in an accident. Divorce. Child custody. Bankruptcy. Arrests. There is no real end to the chain of human misery that clients bring to the doors of practicing attorneys.

Eric’s explanation matches my own for blogging. Personal injury law is how people and families attempt to recover when they “become statistics” though no fault of their own. I hear about explosions, poisonings, fraud, catastrophic medical errors, and — toughest of all — kids whose lives will be forever framed by the careless act of another. I understand the need for a joke, and I try to provide some of that here. In my opinion, lawyers with character rock. I’m fortunate to know more than a few of them.

Can’t a Lawyer Make a Joke?
After the joke, the recriminations began. After all, reminded Jack Marshall of the EthicsAlarms blog, lawyer advertising is  highly regulated. Counselor Turkewitz misrepresented himself, and the codes of legal conduct are not suspended on April Fools’ Day.  This both put Turkewitz’s professional livelihood and reputation at risk and made Mr. Marshall the target of vitriol for being a complete April Fools’ Grinch.

What followed was a thoughtful exchange between the two men about the nature of legal advertising and the provision of free expression rights even to members of the bar.

I’ve often noted that trademark rights can’t be used to encumber efficient commercial and even competitive speech.  Yet bar regulation of lawyers’ commercial speech does just that, by restricting truthful, accurate, and constitutionally protected self expression. Hey, if corporations can have “speech rights” in this crazy democracy, then members of the bar should too.

Yes, Lawyers Can Blog a Joke or Make a Mistake and Live to Tell the Tale.
To his credit, Mr. Marshall re-examined both the facts and his own motives for teeing off on such a benign case. And, unlike the fake apologies of news retractions or cheating politicians/golfers, Jack Marshall did a man’s job with his.

It gave a far better introduction to his character. Take a look.

Blogs and social media in general often seem random, petty, self-aggrandizing, and downright anti-social.  But they also give us the chance to see people with insight and integrity more closely, and to discover there’s often lots more to like. I’m looking forward to reading more of Eric’s NY PI Blog and Jack’s EthicsAlarms blog to see where their legal insights turn next.

I hope you enjoy them as I have.

6 Responses to "On Lawyer Advertising, Free Speech, Personal Injury Law, Ethics and Decency"

  • Jack Marshall

    April 12, 2010

    I’m already in debt to Eric for the graceful way he has handled this whole episode, and for being more understanding than I had any cause to expect.I also want to thank this site for treating the matter with respect and fairness—that has not been the norm, unfortunately. As Eric wrote, there are a lot of things to learn from the controversy; I learned some lessons in humility and not shooting before you know what your target is, in not being so sure you know what you think you know, and not not letting emotional responses louse up discussions that require people reasoning together. The other thing I learned is that some people have a hard time distinguishing between excuses and explanations. Identifying why we blundered is crucial if we aren’t going to make the same mistakes again; but reasons are not excuses.

  • Dave

    April 13, 2010

    Hi Jack,
    Thanks for commenting in here. The integrity which you both showed is instructive…as many of us could end up in a similar spot.

    As an aside, my friend, Austin Frakt, at TheIncidentalEconomist.com, has made a personal study of the factors that can cause us to conclude in error…or to be certain of things which are actually uncertain.

    Much of what happens online passes with little ethical scrutiny, as ethics watch dogs are so often reactive to complaints. I’m certain you’re good for the profession, and I’m glad to be reading your work.

    All the best,
    Dave Wieneke

  • battery-stores

    May 21, 2010

    Your article is good, I like it very much!

  • maryjanie

    January 8, 2016

    Before you do honor and please Jack Marshall, do read more of his vitriolic, revengeful and offensive responses to any ‘other than His’ views, on his blog. It also appears in other posts elsehwere on internet that his style is one of attempting to
    1. be superior and 1 up to others by critiizing and finding any fault while ignoring/ denying his own same and similar actions

    2. be demeaning and discrediting anyone who has a divergent view to his, acting autocratic and as if only his views & opinions can be “Right!” – not alternatives or varieties allowed – in his mind or his blog.

    3. be too effusively ‘apologetic’ in a self-attention-self-serving style, overdoing it so ‘doth protest too much’ is obviously his style in both extremes

    4. be in denial of his own biases, prejudices, unconscious acts, while claiming to be the know-it-all-ethically-expert that he so obviously cannot be, and is not.

    5. be sufficiently intelligent and a decent writer of unsually found ‘errors, harms, spins, etc.’ in news elsewhere than he then expands and derides in his blog. … so Jack has a few devoted defenders who also write intelligently there or his blog would be a waste of time. Commentators add more than 1/2 of what his writing only elicits by topic or his own clever words.

    6. there is a question about if one’s behaviors is totally separate from one’s name or character as Jack conveniently repeatedly claims. If not a murderer then the act of murdering is just ‘behavior’ ? “

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