Everyone has heard of the famous aphorism “any publicity is good publicity.” The statement—variously credited to P.T. Barnum and Oscar Wilde—is a staple of Hollywood and rock music wannabes. However, for attorneys, the sentiment is not always true, definitely not when the publicity arises out of an appellate court opinion concluding that a lawyer “had submitted briefs of ‘shockingly poor quality.’” In re Sobolevsky, No. 4385, 2012 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 2905, at *3 (N.Y. App. Div. 1st Dept. Apr. 19, 2012) (quoting the report of the Second Circuit’s Committee on Admissions and Grievances).
In the past, an attorney receiving such criticism would have had to deal with a very upset client, and perhaps the story would have gotten around in local bar circles. Yet, it was unlikely to have received widespread notoriety. Today, however, the Internet and social media can flash such a damning phrase across the country in minutes. A simple Google search by any prospective client will highlight the language, along with the “piling on” by blog posts.
Whether courts have issued more opinions criticizing appellate lawyers recently or whether today’s instant global communications have made the cases more visible is hard to say. What cannot be denied is that a series of written opinions recently has included harsh criticism of individual attorneys. Perhaps this indicates simple exasperation with having to deal with the same mistakes judges describe at any panel discussion on appellate advocacy. Or perhaps it is a view that such educational efforts alone have not produced positive results in the courtroom. Whatever the genesis, attorneys must now consider that their failings could appear in a written opinion and, soon thereafter, on an Internet site near you. Appellate attorneys, therefore, would do well to learn from the mistakes made by the following less-than-stellar representatives of the profession.