Is technology a blessing or a curse to the legal profession? The obvious answer (and the consummate lawyer answer) is “yes” – it is a little of both. In the wrong hands, technology is nothing more than an opportunity for self-inflicted wounds. Here are a few “lawyer technology” DON’TS:
Don’t record Judges: Our old buddy Jan Warner (God rest his soul) thought he was doing the right thing to investigate a client’s concern about judicial misconduct by smuggling a recording device into the Judge’s chambers and recording a conversation with the court. Our Supreme Court disagreed that a “dilemma” existed by his desire to document judicial misconduct. All such complaints or concerns should be made through proper channels – not through self-help investigations (Matter of Warner,286 S.C. 459, 335 S.E.2d 90 (1985). Warner’s old-school, Austin Power’s technology pales in comparison to the phones that we routinely carry into chambers. With that said, DON’T RECORD CONFERENCES IN CHAMBERS. For the matter, DON’T RECORD OTHER MEETINGS either without express permission. Even if it is lawful under the circumstances, there is a better than average chance that it will carry the appearance of impropriety (otherwise, it wouldn’t be a secret recording).
Don’t forget that the use of technology leaves a permanent trail: In Indiana, attorney Sniadecki was suspended from the practice of law and directed to inform his clients. Instead of telling ALL of his clients, Mr. Sniadecki apparently thought that he could remain involved on the down low with a few of his better cases. When a concern was later expressed that he continued to practice law actively, a subsequent investigation was launched. Sniadecki admitted that he had remained in periodic contact with his former office. However, it was hard for him to respond to the allegation that he was practicing law when he had called his office from his cell phone 675 times! Yes Mr. Sniadecki – there is a record of the calls. In re Sniadecki, 924 N.E.2d 109, (2010).
Don’t answer your phone in court: True story. A Minnesota lawyer was sanctioned in part for answering his phone in court AFTER being warned by the hearing referee not to answer the phone. The lawyer’s response: the hearing was unfair and he was trying to get his witnesses to the courthouse. In re Petition for Disciplinary Action Against Winter, 770 N.W.2d 463 (Minn.,2009).
Don’t take selfies: Svitlana Sangary is a lawyer in California who is currently responding to a disciplinary action for having taken selfies – sort of. Ms. Sangary posted a number of photographs of herself with the rich and famous, including photos taken with President Obama, Bill Clinton, George Clooney, Kim Kardashian and others. The problem is that none of the pictures are real. Instead, she superimposed her face on the images to create the appearance that she ran in all the right circles. If this sounds like false advertising to you, then you would agree with the California State Bar who considered the photos “false, deceptive, and intended to confuse, deceive and mislead the public.” Sangary’s lawyer, Mark Geragos (yes, the Mark Geragos) responded on her behalf “if that kind of puffery is actionable by the state bar, your are going to put the entire membership out of business.” That may fly in California (don’t it), but the well-advised attorney in South Carolina should avoid it here.
Don’t friend jurors on social media: There are too many opinions, advisories and cases to list here. The clear dividing line on this one seems to be the following: If a potential juror has made information publically available, it is acceptable to view it. However, a lawyer cannot “friend” a potential juror (or get somebody else to do it for them) for the purpose of learning information that the juror has not made publically available. The latter is tampering and it is a crime. Don’t do it.
There are many more Do’s and Don’ts to follow. Next time, I promise to accompany the blog with a photograph of me with Anthony Hopkins.
Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter