Around the Blawgosphere: Joseph Rakofsky Sound Off; Client Poachers; and the End of Blawg Review?

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Updated: If anything had the legal blogosphere going this week, it was Joseph Rakofsky, a relatively recent law grad whose poor trial performance as defense counsel in a murder trial prompted the judge to declare a mistrial last Friday.

Rakofsky admitted during a rambling opening statement that this murder defense case was his first murder case. Brett Clark at JDs Rising noted Rakofsky was in a similar situation to My Cousin Vinny Gambini, minus Gambini’s “Marisa Tomei-esque fiancee there to save the day.”

Many bloggers saw the Rakofsky debacle as a consequence of what they see as an increased emphasis on marketing (even if it stretches the truth) without a parallel focus on work product.

Washington, D.C. Jamison Koehler at Koehler Law was the first to pick up on the story and checked out Rakofsky’s website back when it was still online. Koehler said Rakofsky stated “on his website that he ‘interviewed at a well-respected investment bank with branches all over the world.’ Emphasis added.)” Mark Bennett at Defending People grabbed a screen shot of the website, complete with “fraudulent trustworthy grey-haired lawyer pictures.”

Criminal Defense blogger Brian Tannebaum was at the Legal Marketers Association Annual Conference on Monday, when interest in the story peaked, and he was disappointed that no speakers reacted to it: “The marketers took the opportunity, on a day where their advice and strategies were the talk of the Internet, to say nothing. Everything about marketing must remain positive, nothing critical, nothing negative, just pay the cash and get clients. They don’t worry about your ethics, and don’t want you worried about theirs.”

At Simple Justice, Scott Greenfield thought it was ironic that just days after the Rakofsky story broke, Jay Shepherd’s column “Six Steps to Becoming an Expert” ran at Above the Law. The six points, in “the obligatory list format favored by marketers trying to sell simpletons”: win a case, get some ink; do a CLE; write an article; help your colleagues; and repeat.

“This is the modern path to success in the law, just lie your butt off to everybody who will listen, feign expertise you don’t have and see how many fools will let you slide in along the way,” Greenfield wrote. “Cover up the dead bodies of your incompetence and when you get lucky, promote the hell out of yourself as if you’re the real thing.”

Maxwell Kennerly at Litigation & Trial and Blonde Justice wonder if client Dontrell Deamer had an experienced public defender on his case before the decision was made to hire Rakofsky. The anonymous Blonde Justice, who says she is a public defender, writes: “I see something similar sometimes in criminal court, too. Sometimes a private lawyer will come in the courtroom and say something like ‘I’ve never done a criminal case before, how do I …?’ On one hand, everyone has to start with something, everyone was new once. On the other hand, I can just picture their client thinking, ‘I’m so glad my family pooled their money for this real lawyer who is so much better than that public pretender I had before.’ Meanwhile, their lawyer is asking me how to do the job.”

Not Guilty reported that Washington, D.C. lawyer David Benowitz is going to be appointed on this case. Benowitz is “a home grown (meaning trained by D.C. Public Defender Services) lawyer with well over a dozen years of strictly criminal defense experience under his belt,” writes Not Guilty blogger Mirriam Seddiq, who says she is of counsel to Benowitz’s firm. Seddiq also revisited Rakofsky again today in a post largely focused on Susan Prentice-Sao, a Michigan criminal defense lawyer accused of ineffective assistance by the prosecutor opposing her.

Not the Last Blawg Review

Last Friday, April Fool’s Day, George M. Wallace hosted Blawg Review #305 at his blawg, a fool in the forest. For those unfamiliar: On a weekly basis for the past six years, law bloggers have taken turns “hosting” Blawg Review on their own blawgs by way of writing a post rounding up interesting posts on other blawgs that week. A reader could always find the week’s host at the Blawg Review blog. However, the site’s April 1 post (and the April 1 tweet from the mysterious “Ed”) indicated Blawg Review is gone for good. “Ed” did not return the ABA Journal’s email seeking comment about Blawg Review’s status in the week after the announcement. But on April 11, a post announced the blog’s six-year anniversary and solicited future hosts.

Client Poachers

At MyShingle.com this week, Carolyn Elefant notes that this week she spent a day and a few hundred dollars to go to an industry conference this week with the primary aim of preventing other lawyers from “poaching” a client of hers who was also attending. And her concerns weren’t unfounded, she said: “Even with my oversight, at least one consultant made an overt, brazen play for my client as I stood by.” She adds that she’s been poached once or twice in the past.

“It’s easy to fall into complacency and assume that if you treat clients well and provide exceptional representation, they won’t look elsewhere,” Elefant wrote. But “most poachers will promise—nay, even guarantee your client the impossible: lower fees, added expertise and a superior outcome. You can’t compete with a fantasy lawyer. In my recent situation, I witnessed the poacher making promises for money and results that he could not possibly deliver.”

Updated April 11 with information that Blawg Review is back on.

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