Legal Ethics & The Water Cooler

Yesterday, the ABA Journal posted its “Top 10 most-read legal news stories of 2018.”  The intro notes that “[l]awyers busy with research, conferences and other high-concentration tasks sometimes need a break. So it’s no surprise that the most-viewed articles on our website tend toward water-cooler topics . . .”

That’s consistent with the stats for this blog.  The most-read posts are the #fiveforfriday legal ethics quizzes.

Still, I find it interesting that 3 of the ABA’s most-read stories relate to legal ethics/professional responsibility, even if in a water cooler type of way.  So, I thought I’d share them, along with a personal note on a topic that we must move beyond the water cooler.

1. ‘Making a Murderer’ lawyer acquitted on stalking charge; he did ‘meow randomly,’ court told.

This was the most-read legal news story on the ABA Journal in 2018.

I’ve not blogged often on Making a Murderer.  To the extent I’ve mentioned it here or during CLEs, it’s been to note that Ken Kratz’s law license was suspended for 4 months for conduct unrelated to the prosecution of Steven Avery & Brendan Dassey.  Rather, the Wisconsin Supreme Court suspended his license in response to Kratz “sexting” a victim while prosecuting her ex for domestic abuse.  The order is here, with a CBS News story on the case here.

Anyhow, the ABA Journal’s most-read story of 2018 did not involve Kratz.  It involved Len Kachinsky.  Kachinsky is the lawyer who, among other things, agreed to let law enforcement interview Dassey without him (Kachinsky) being there.  A federal judge eventually concluded that Kachinsky’s representation of Dassey was “inexcusable both tactically and ethically.”

Earlier this month, Kachinsky was acquitted of felony stalking charges.  Per the ABA Journal, Kachinsky’s lawyer informed the jury that Kachinsky was quirky and “would be heard to meow randomly occasion,” but that some people found him “endearing.” Apparently the jury agreed.

In Vermont, a lawyer’s felony conviction violates Rule 8.4(b).

5. Utah bar ‘horrified’ over email blast sent with photo of topless woman

This was the 5th most-read legal news story on the ABA Journal in 2018.

For years, I’ve blogged on tech competence.  Indeed, earlier this month, the Vermont Supreme Court adopted the so-called “tech competence” comment to Rule 1.1, the rule that requires lawyers to provide clients with competent representation.

I don’t think that anyone at the Utah Bar violated the ethics rules.  Yet, “human error” resulted in an email to all active Utah lawyers including a photo of a topless woman.


Many years ago, I was prosecuting a lawyer. I can’t remember the charge. I do remember that, on the day of the hearing, the lawyer sent an email to the hearing panel stating that  she would not drive to the hearing because her car’s “check engine” light had come on.  She purported to attach a picture of the “check engine” light.

It was a picture of her cat.

Tech competence is a thing.

9.  Lawyers rank highest on ‘loneliness scale,’ study finds

This was the 9th most-read legal news story on the ABA Journal in 2018.

Per the story, lawyers are lonelier than other professionals.  Here’s a quote from the post:

  • “Houston-area lawyer Scott Rothenberg tells the ABA Journal that loneliness and isolation may be a root cause of many lawyer issues. ‘There are these disparate problems like depression and suicide and substance abuse, in many respects tied together,’ he says.”

This is another topic upon which I’ve often blogged: lawyer wellness & well-being.  The ABA Journal story makes me think of “impostor syndrome.”   Remember, if loneliness or depression makes you feel like an impostor, YOU ARE NOT.

Yesterday, my dad’s wife sent me a gut-wrenching email.  Her son, my step-brother, died this summer.  His name was Todd.  For many, many years, Todd fought valiantly against troubles caused by substance abuse & mental health disorders.

In the e-mail, my dad’s wife mentioned that she’d been meaning to tell me that, coincidentally, on the day I posted the blog on “impostor syndrome,” she’d been reading through Todd’s journal.  She added that she wanted:

  • ” to tell you how accurate your post was in relation to the feeling of loneliness, due to the fact that Todd had lived for years trying to be someone who he really wasn’t, and feeling the need to lie, to pretend.”

She concluded by noting how sad it is to know that there are so many people who struggle with the same self-doubt & fear on a daily basis, tricked into feeling that way by behavioral health issues.

She’s right.

Attorney well-being is a topic that we, as a profession, must ensure remains at the forefront, well beyond “water cooler talk.”





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