May 3, 2007

What exactly are the law firm's values?

Remember the AutoAdmit controversy? Today, the WSJ Law Blog reports:
The Law Blog has learned that law firm Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge rescinded its job offer to Anthony Ciolli, the 3L at Penn Law who resigned as “Chief Education Director” of AutoAdmit last month. He resigned in the wake of a WaPo exposé on how the site in part served as a platform for attacks and defamatory remarks about female law students, among others (see our earlier post here)....

On April 11, just over a month after the WaPo story ran, DeWitt sent a letter to Ciolli stating that the firm had recently learned of the controversy involving AutoAdmit, in particular its “off-topic” message board, and that “the information we now have raises serious concerns about your joining our firm.”

[Boston managing partner Charles] DeWitt wrote that the content of the messages on the board are “antithetical” to the values of the firm and the “principles of collegiality and respect that members of the legal profession should observe in their dealings with other lawyers.” DeWitt pointed out that in an online letter to another blogger, Ciolli and his partner Jarret Cohen identified themselves as AutoAdmit’s administrators and defended its “free, uninhibited exchange of ideas.”

DeWitt continued: “We expect any lawyer affiliated with our firm, when presented with the kind of language exhibited on the message board, to reject it and to disavow any affiliation with it. You, instead, facilitated the expression and publication of such language. . . . ” He wrote, his resignation from the site was “too late to ameliorate our concerns.”...

Cohen, a 23-year-old insurance broker in Allentown, Pa., who says he founded AutoAdmit and currently runs the site, told the Law Blog: “It was me. I created the message board. I exercised ultimate authority. Anthony didn’t endorse any of this stuff. He doesn’t deserve this. This is guilt by association.”
So what are the law firm's values? Not free speech. Not fairness. "Respect" for "other lawyers" -- I'll give them that. The central value is probably just a deep-seated fear of any association with controversy.

(For more discussion on other blogs, start here.)

IN THE COMMENTS: Revenant says:
The Three Laws of Lawbotics:

(1): You must cover your own ass.

(2): You must cover the asses of the partners at your law firm, unless doing so would violate the first law.

(3): You must cover the collective ass of the legal profession, unless doing so would violate the first or second laws.


Dave said...

I often get the feeling that, with stories such as this, and the $65 million dry cleaning lawsuit that has made the rounds, lawyers are, collectively, utterly clueless about the way they are perceived by non-lawyers.

All these machinations very well may have some basis in either the law or risk mitigation, but, as is all too often the case, there seems to be reality and then there seems to be "the law" or, at least, how lawyers think. I shudder at the fact that I considered law school, and then rejoice when I realize I intuited how miserable all the lawyers I know are.

NE2d said...

You missed the best part. A partner at that very firm is working there while under indictment for vehicular homicide.

Revenant said...

The Three Laws of Lawbotics:

(1): You must cover your own ass.

(2): You must cover the asses of the partners at your law firm, unless doing so would violate the first law.

(3): You must cover the collective ass of the legal profession, unless doing so would violate the first or second laws.

The partisan moderate said...

Yeah, from what heard the comments at autoadmit were really in poor taste. That said, the UPENN student was not defending the comments just the right for people to post them.

Now, you can disagree with that explanation (I take issue what he was doing) but for a firm to revoke their offer is absurd. It really says more about their law firm than it does about the Penn student.

PatHMV said...

Good for them for having some standards. That site is despicable. They have a right to exist, and students shouldn't be thrown out of school or punished for running it, but anybody who acts to support that garbage is not fit to be employed with decent people.

Besides, he's a walking sexual harassment suit waiting to happen, if he finds that kind of language acceptable and is willing to work to provide a forum for it.

TMink said...

Rev, you rock. Lawyer busting and an Asimov nod in one post. I am not worthy.


Unknown said...

Of course they should fire him. The Firm's values are about increasing profits (as they should be) and this kid is going to get in the way.

Kirby Olson said...

Position: Acquisitions Editor
Salary: Unspecified
Institution: Ashgate Publishing Company
Location: Vermont
Date posted: 5/3/2007
Application deadline: 5/28/2007

Acquisitions Editor
Ashgate Publishing, a leading international publisher of academic monographs and reference books in the social sciences and humanities, is seeking an Acquisitions Editor for Law and Legal Studies. The position is based in our Burlington, Vermont office overlooking Lake Champlain and at the foot of the Green Mountains.

The position requires a self-starter to contribute to the development and expansion of the Law and Legal Studies list in the North American market. The role involves establishing a wide range of contacts and commissioning new product across the discipline. In addition, the position requires traveling to recruit new authors and editors, negotiating publishing contracts and meeting annual commissioning and revenue targets.

The successful applicant will possess a Bachelor's degree; have a strong interest in law and legal studies and two or more years of commissioning experience. The individual must be highly organized, and possess excellent written, verbal and interpersonal skills. This opportunity will suit a team player who also feels comfortable working autonomously in a changing and fast-paced environment.

We offer an excellent working environment with a competitive benefits package. Ashgate is an Equal Opportunity Employer M/F/D/V. Please apply by sending cover letter, resume and salary requirements by May 28, 2007 to:

Law - Acquisitions
Ashgate Publishing Co.
101 Cherry Street, Suite 420
Burlington, VT 05401

Wade Garrett said...

Oh please, you know this isn't a free speech issue. The firm isn't arresting him for expressing dissent, or for speaking his mind, or for distributing pornography. They're merely declining to offer employment to a total asshole. Law firms have a right not to hire people based on the content of their character.

Revenant said...

Oh please, you know this isn't a free speech issue.

It is a free speech issue. It just isn't a first amendment issue.

The law firm's criticism of Ciolli is nothing more than this: he didn't censor the comments section of his website. That is a free speech issue.

Wade Garrett said...

How is it a free speech issue? He has a right to speak freely! He just doesn't have a right to work at Edwards, Angell, Palmer & Dodge. That, Revenant, is a privilege - a privilege he forefeited when he let the commenters on his website threaten to sexually abuse Jill Filipovic, or photograph her named in the locker room at her health club.

Ann Althouse said...

The firm has obviously shown its lack of interest in free speech by penalizing Ciolli for not actively finding a way to restructure Cohen's website so that the forums would be moderated. Their idea is that an unmoderated forum is so evil that any association with it makes a person undeserving of a job.

I never said anything about the "right" to free speech, Wade. I know a lot of lawyers and law professors no longer value free speech and are eager, as you apparently are, to confine the idea to what they are required to acknowledge under constitutional law. I intend to attack these people. Are you one of them?

Wade Garrett said...

Professor Althouse, you delete comments from you blog all the time. Does that mean you are not committed to free speech?

Nobody is saying he can't work for such a website. When this controversy was in the news the first time around, you blamed the victims of these attacks for having put photographs of themselves online in the first place. Hundreds of assholes around the country commented on these photographs in lewd, defamatory and threatening ways. At least one of the women involved was geniunely concerned that this website was a a threat to their personal safety. Futhermore, these women had reason to believe that they were passed over for certain jobs because their employers read the defamatory comments made about them in these comment threads. You expressed no sympathy for them. Instead, you said that one can not put photographs online without expecting people to judge you based on what you publish, and that, therefore, you forego your right to complain when people judge you based on what you put online.

Well, we all make our choices, don't we, Ann? This guy was an editor of this unsavory website. He chose to work for the website, he chose not to do anything about the problem once it was called to his attention.

If you are going to judge private actors for punishing people for speaking freely, then I want to see you put up a post criticizing every principal who has ever given a student detention, and for every grandmother who has ever washed somebody's mouth out with soap.

Richard Dolan said...

Revenant's first two Laws are on the mark; the third one seems less so to me.

The craven quality of the law firm's response is not unique or surprising in today's world -- it's on a par with the Texas firm that denounced one of its partners who touted the firm's long history of pro-active civil rights work during interviews at Duke (?) LS, and in the process offended some student by mentioning a case involving the "N" word.

Apart from the cravenness of the response, I suspect that there is also a generational issue. The partners at the firm who made the decision to rescind the offer of employment to Ciolli may not have much familiarity with on-line forums or blogs, and the basically uncontrollable nature of the comments that gets posted to them. A website that allows open comments inevitably ends up with tasteless, insulting or worse comments being posted. It happens here from time to time, and is a standard feature of blogs like Daily Kos, huffington post, firedoglake and many others. If that is enough to rescind an employment offer, then maintaining an on-line forum or a blog w/ comments (like Ann's) will have become a much more hazardous activity than it is now.

Whatever the firm's partners did or didn't know about blogs and forums, however, Revenant's first two laws probably capture the real motivations in play here.

Beth said...

Oh, please. It's funny! Ciolli is whining that he just wants to be left alone. But as we all know, if you put stuff up there on the internet, like a picture of yourself, or your name on a blog, you might end up receiving unwanted attention. If the women targeted on Auto Admit need to just toughen up, so does little Tony Ciolli.