Law and Conversation

March 2, 2014

Another article online!

I’m pleased that Bloomberg BNA has made one of my conference reports available online. It’s from the midyear meeting of the National Organization of Bar Counsel, held in Chicago in February, entitled “Speakers at Bar Counsel Meeting Probe Gray Areas in Ethics of Advice on Marijuana,” and reports a program at which the speakers addressed how lawyers may advise marijuana business clients (and now recreational marijuana business clients also, in Colorado and Washington) in states that have decriminalized marijuana use without violating lawyer ethics rules.

Previously I linked to other articles I’ve written that are freely available.

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October 23, 2013

Recent articles online

As part of a team of lawyers at the American Bar Association and Bloomberg BNA, I write and edit the ABA/BNA Lawyers’ Manual on Professional Conduct. Every now and then, someone asks me if they can read them. Most are behind a paywall, but a few are posted on this or that website and are freely available. Here are some of them:

Panelists Examine How Prosecutors Can Be Held Accountable for Misconduct, 27 Law. Man. Prof. Conduct (2012)

APRL Panelists Debate What Role Regulation of Lawyer Ads Should Play in 21st Century, 29 Law. Man. Prof. Conduct 103 (2013) (Oops! The final page of this article, p. 105, was unfortunately not included. The final page online, p. 106, is the end of a different article that I wrote reporting another program from the same conference and the entirety of still another short article, cited in the next paragraph here.)

Lawyers Who Counsel Other Lawyers Should Give This Advice, Judge Suggests, 29 Law. Man. Prof. Conduct 106 (2013) (scroll down to last page)

Internet Marketing Raises Ethics Issues But Bar Representatives See Few Grievances, 29 Law. Man. Prof. Conduct 1 (2013) (you can also access the article here on BNA’s website)

Speakers Say Anticipate Potential Problems Before Lawyer Leaves Firm or Dies Suddenly, 29 Law. Man. Prof. Conduct 4 (2013) (scroll down to 3d article at link)

I’ve also filed reports for the Lawyers’ Manual on cybersecurity, the new ethics regime for solicitors in England and Wales, and government lawyers and ethics, among other topics. And I’ve just finished one on third party opinion letters from last week’s mindblowing Aon Law Firm Symposium, held in Chicago. I was especially pleased to get to cover the session on third party opinions because I recently updated that chapter in the Lawyers’ Manual, and it’s exciting for me to see it published on the ‘net less than 24 hours after final edits.

August 17, 2013

Charles Dickens, Claire Tomalin, and backing it up

I’ve just finished Claire Tomalin’s biography of Charles Dickens, which came out a couple of years ago and had been sitting on my nightstand in a TBR stack. I was really looking forward to seeing what Tomalin had to say about Dickens, especially since I’d recently finished “Little Dorrit” and had also read Tomalin’s masterpiece of biographical sleuthing and deduction, “The Invisible Woman,” her biography of Nelly Ternan, Dickens’s much younger mistress.

Tomalin delivered some fascinating insights into the great author in highly readable form. Still, there were a few references that bothered me.

First, in chapter 16, she writes that after the death of their nine-month-old daughter Dora in 1851 “Another Highgate funeral had to be planned and carried out, and [Dickens’s wife] Catherine brought to London and comforted.”

For me, Tomalin’s phrasing leaves much to be desired. As a friend observed, it conveys that Catherine was – horrors – NEEDY, as great a sin 160 years ago as it is today, at least when we’re talking about those in the circle of a Very Important Person with an ego to match his (or her) ability. No matter that Catherine’s CHILD HAD JUST DIED.

Based on sympathetic references to Catherine elsewhere in her book, I don’t really think Tomalin meant to suggest anything unkind about her. However, I would have liked some additional information and commentary here about Dickens’s and Catherine’s relationship and the impact of their child’s death on both of them individually and on their relationship, which had deteriorated badly by that time. Dora was Dickens’s child, too; did he not also grieve, even though, as Tomalin notes elsewhere in her book, he said on more than one occasion that he regretted having more than three children? Even a statement that there is no information, or that Dickens made no reference to Dora’s death in his surviving contemporaneous correspondence with his close friends, if that was the case, would be insightful.

Second, in chapter 25, Tomalin refers to Dickens’s daughter Katey’s marriage to Charles Collins, 12 years her senior and an invalid, as “not much of a marriage.” Again, though I realize a biographer has to make some hard choices about how much information to include about members of her subject’s circle, I would have liked a few more details to support her conclusory description. Plenty of happy couples, after all, have similar differences in age, and it’s hard to imagine greater devotion and commitment than that of one whose spouse is so disabled as no longer to be capable of being a partner. Tomalin asserts earlier that Katey decided to marry Collins (the brother of the writer Wilkie Collins, Dickens’s friend) “without love” and “to get away from home” (chapter 21). A supporting quotation or two would have benefited these conclusions; the endnotes do not make the bases for Tomalin’s assertions clear.

I don’t remember reading biographies this critically before I became a lawyer. Though lawyers get a bad rap for writing obscurely, the characteristics of good legal writing are the same as good general writing and include clarity and, for nonfiction, documentation. If you write a brief – a document in which you make your best argument for your client – you need to support every assertion with authority. So when I read a work of nonfiction, for every single assertion I want to know on what primary sources the author relied and what in them warrants the author’s conclusions.

As has already been reported, Tomalin was taken in by an academic fraud: she recounts as fact a meeting that supposedly took place between Dickens and Dostoevsky in London in 1862. The purported meeting never happened, though the academic hoax was accepted for years. (I believe the error has been corrected in later editions of Tomalin’s biography). The lessons? First, as journalism students have long been taught, even under deadline pressure and even with a seemingly unimpeachable source, “check it out.” Second, even tremendous writers and scholars like Tomalin can make mistakes, which should actually be heartening for all of us.

February 6, 2013

American Bar Association in Dallas

Filed under: ethics,Law,legal writing — Helen Gunnarsson @ 12:47 am
Tags: , ,

I’m looking forward to covering ethics programs for the ABA/BNA Lawyers’ Manual on Professional Conduct at the Midyear Meeting of the American Bar Association this week in Dallas.

You can download and read “Panelists Examine How Prosecutors Can Be Held Accountable for Misconduct,” an article I wrote about a program at a meeting last year, on the website of the National Organization of Bar Counsel. If you’re interested in legal ethics, be sure to check out the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers.

September 2, 2011

Europa Challenge Blog: The Girl on the Via Flaminia

Challenge Button

I’m over on the Europa Challenge Blog today with a review of Alfred Hayes’s “The Girl on the Via Flaminia.” Originally published in 1949, the story is set in Rome as World War II winds down. It’s a powerful depiction of the unforeseen personal and legal complications of a simple business arrangement between a US GI and an Italian woman. Please click on over and check it out!

Last week I posted about my delight at having my cover story in the August 2011 issue of the Illinois Bar Journal, “To Tweet Or Not To Tweet,” selected as Pick of the Week by TechnoLawyer’s BlawgWorld

This week I’m preening all over again because the ABA Journal, published by the American Bar Association, picked up my cover story for this month’s (September 2011) issue of the IBJ, “The Five Biggest Business Mistakes Lawyers Make,” for which I interviewed Wauconda, Illinois lawyer Timothy Storm. I predict that Storm’s upcoming presentation at the ISBA’s Solo and Small Firm Conference in Springfield will have lawyers standing up and shouting “AMEN!” Please click on over and read the articles–ISBA has generously made them available to the public, free of charge. If you’re an Illinois lawyer and you’re NOT an ISBA member, what are you thinking? Go join right now! (This has been an unpaid public service and self-promotional announcement 😉 )

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