It is perhaps not very well known that the ethics rules for lawyers cover behavior not only during but also outside of working hours. According to the Preamble of the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct:
 A lawyer is a representative of clients or a neutral third party, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.
 Virtually all difficult ethical problems arise from conflict between a lawyer’s responsibilities to clients, to the legal system and to the lawyer’s own interest in remaining an upright person while earning a satisfactory living.
It may seem that lawyers placing a strong emphasis on ethics and professionalism is so “20th Century”, but this is simply not true. We perhaps do not recognize this because stories about bad behavior, fraud, failure, corruption, etc. are more interesting and easier to publicize. However, let me share a seemingly innocuous incident from last night, which really provides an under-the-radar example of how most estate planning lawyers nationwide truly feel a shared responsibility towards one another and towards the legal profession.
Last night, I found that I was “followed” on Twitter by someone whom I had followed recently, and that person wrote me a friendly personal message to thank me. I looked through the gentleman’s website, enjoyed some of the content, and wrote him a nice plug.
Within minutes, South Florida estate planning attorney David A. Shulman posted a message directed at me, expressing criticism of my endorsement.
While I had never previously met or spoken to Mr. Shulman personally, I knew of him by reputation and by being an ardent follower of his outstanding blog. His writing is thoughtful, passionate, and honest, and some of his posts aggressively attack what he accurately sees as others’ attempts to deceive or trick the public. It did not surprise me when earlier this year, LexisNexis named his blog as one of the Top 25 in Estate, Probate, and Elder Law. So when he initiated contact, I immediately took notice.
After I asked him what he thought was wrong, Mr. Shulman graciously pointed out that the person I plugged does not share his full name anywhere on his site or on Twitter.
Now, I generally feel that wisdom is wisdom, no matter the source. Additionally, there are probably some who would say that I can endorse whomever I want, whenever I want. In other words, if I like a post or an article, it would follow that it shouldn’t matter whether the author is a Supreme Court justice, a criminal or providing a fake, illegitimate identity.
But I believe that this line of reasoning misses the key point – I was not thorough enough in researching the source. In this day and age, a business failing to reveal even the most basic information about itself invites suspicion, and I inadvertently missed this fact about my endorsee.
That’s It? So What?
So why am I making such a big deal? For the following reasons:
- The incident lets me show my appreciation to Mr. Shulman publicly, and displays Mr. Shulman’s level of professionalism.
- It serves as a reminder to us all to remain vigilant online at all times.
- It shows that offers of help or opinion are not always a marketing ploy or based around a profit-motive.
- It is yet another example of the incredible congeniality that exists in the estate planning community.
- It exemplifies the “checks and balances” that occur between lawyers every day, and how this makes the legal profession a truly beneficial public service.
- It is another illustration of John Donne’s “no man is an island” principle — no one can hold a monopoly on wisdom.
Oh, and one final point. Assuming that I made a mistake here, there are those who would disagree with my decision to write a post about it. If someone decides not to work with me as a result of what is written here, then so be it.
However, unlike traditional media, social media tends to be dominated by good news, endorsements, hat tips, etc. Contrary to this, if someone is going to take the time to read this blog, research me and perhaps even work with me as a result, I figure that it’s a more believable premise to show such people that I am not infallible.
So, to David, thank you so very much! To everyone else, thank you for indulging me by reading this far.
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