Get Your Law School Applications In: Welcome to the Profession

It’s that time of year when English, Philosophy, and History majors start wondering what they’re going to do after graduation.

If you’re thinking about going to law school, you’re welcome to read the entirety of this New York Times article, The Lawyer, the Addict,  on substance abuse in the legal profession.

Or, you can read just this part, under the heading, “Rewarded for Being Hostile.” After noting that lawyers “have the highest rate of depression of any occupational group in the country,” there’s this:

Yes, there are other stressful professions…Being a surgeon is stressful, for instance — but not in the same way. It would be like having another surgeon across the table from you trying to undo your operation. In law, you are financially rewarded for being hostile.

I love that image. I mean, I also hate it, as a lawyer who has to deal with lawyers all day long.

The law is a strange profession. Look at the ads in the Yellow Pages, and there they are: “Hostile”; “Aggressive”; “Take No Prisoners”; “Bulldog.”

Aggressive

Here is a law firm using, literally, an angry gorilla to advertise their services. (I found another one with a lawyer holding a ninja sword, but I didn’t post that.)

This isn’t the part where I say that I hate my job, but it’s a note that the legal profession is a strange one.

The next ten years will be interesting, as more of the “old school” attorneys retire and make way for the millennials, who, if we believe the news stories, value quality of life and collaboration. Maybe, we’ll see a decrease in this “law is war” mentality.

But, with a generation raised on social media snark, I wonder whether we’ll see a continuation of the broader cultural shift to a lack of civil behavior, particularly with the wide-spread use of e-mail communication as the primary means of lawyer to lawyer communication and long-distance / remote practice.

What I’m saying, in the end, is: Welcome to the Jungle, new lawyers.

 

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Presenting at 2017 Family Law Forum: The Life Cycle of a Divorce

As you all know, I regularly speak at Continuing Legal Education seminars for lawyers on topics related to foreclosure, bankruptcy, and other creditor rights issues in the law.

Well, to my surprise, the Tennessee Bar Association has asked me to talk about family law, at its annual Family Law Forum: The Life Cycle of a Divorce, on May 24, 2017.

Now, before you prepare your expert-level questions about parenting plans and in futuro alimony, please know that I’m speaking on Social Media legal issues in family law matters, including things that lawyers must warn their clients against.

I’m an expert on that, because I’ve been law tweeting actively for eight years at @creditorlaw, and my firm has only asked me to delete two tweets. That’s basically a perfect track record.

And, just in case one of you do that thing where you ask presenters weirdly complicated questions, I’ve enlisted Phil Newman, a great lawyer who I refer all family law matters, to serve as my co-presenter.

I’ll post more details later.

Using Social Media to Collect Debt: If You Can Navigate the Ethical Minefield, It Works 5% of the Time

A new trend in lawyer Continuing Legal Education are seminars advocating use of Social Media to Collect Debts. The seminars either advocate for social media as the tool of the future or caution that it is an ethical trap for debt collectors.

It’s a hot issue in debt collection. NPR did a story on this last year, and the Federal Trade Commission recently conducted a “Debt Collection 2.0” workshop on the issue. Frankly, it’s such a new issue that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) doesn’t exactly fit, but it’s close.

It’s definitely a trap for the debt collector, especially given that the FDCPA seems to apply to all communications, regardless of whether it’s a letter, e-mail, or friend request. Does a creditor have to identify themselves as a debt collector under the Act in an initial friend request? Does the friend request (i.e. an “initial communication”) have to be followed by the Act’s required debt validation warning (15 USC 1692g)?

I have no idea. My philosophy is, when in doubt about ethics, choose the safe route. Here, the safe route is avoiding affirmative contact but, if the profile is public, then by all means use whatever you can publicly find.

Just yesterday, I was trying to locate a defendant who had disappeared–all of the searches kept going back to his old house, where the residents swore he no longer lived. But, I found an online profile for him on Map My Walk, a site that allows people to track their running and walking routes. You can guess the rest: everyday, his walks started and ended at the address that I had, providing confirmation of his address (and what time he was home in the afternoon).

At one time, I saw social media as the future of debt collection, especially in the early days of social networking sites (Myspace, Friendster, early Facebook), when people didn’t think twice about privacy settings. Now, people are more savvy about online privacy. (And it’s not necessarily to dodge debt collections–it’s more likely to avoid the boss seeing your party photos.)

Even though people can post pictures of their new car or brag about their promotion at work, most people know better. But, not everybody knows better–and, if they are going to put it online where anybody can see, they can’t complain when a debt collector finds it.

My final take? It’s not the wave of the future in collections. It’s a box to check in the process, but not the solution to finding debtors or their assets.