Sunday, January 21, 2007

never admitted--so what?

From the NY Times:

During the past two years, when Brian T. Valery was representing a Stamford drug company in connection with product liability lawsuits involving the painkiller OxyContin, William E. McGrath Jr., a lawyer for one of the plaintiffs, found Mr. Valery “unduly aggressive” but never questioned his abilities.

In another case, Steven Maass, who hired Mr. Valery’s former law firm, Anderson Kill & Olick, after Mr. Maass’s electronic trading business was destroyed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, thought Mr. Valery unimpressive but chalked it up to inexperience.

“All first- and second-year attorneys are pretty terrible,” Mr. Maass wrote in a recent exchange of e-mail messages.

But it turned out that Mr. Valery, who billed roughly $300 an hour as he deposed insurance executives and coordinated the testimony of two expert witnesses from Harvard Law School, had never actually been admitted to the bar. Or, for that matter, attended law school, something that eluded his colleagues at Anderson Kill, one of Manhattan’s white-shoe law firms, not to mention the editors of journals for which he co-wrote articles on environmental law and property insurance.

. . .

In October, the firm alerted authorities in Connecticut to the misconduct, leading to Mr. Valery’s disbarment last month. Connecticut authorities debated what Mr. Dubois called the “metaphysical question” of whether they could even disbar someone who was never a lawyer and had only temporary privileges to practice in the state. They decided they could, and should, to keep other states from issuing privileges based on the faulty Connecticut credentials.

Those who monitor the legal profession say it is difficult to defend against an impostor like Mr. Valery, who appears to have lied about his education and experience through a decade of work at the firm since he began as a paralegal in 1996. Anderson Kill partners say they blame themselves for treating Mr. Valery as a “trusted employee” and for failing to corroborate what he told them.

To me, this brouhaha just highlights the silliness of the legal profession. If this guy worked as a paralegal for 10 years, he was almost certainly more qualified to do what he was doing than any first or second year associate would have been. In many cases, law school only marginally prepares a person for what they will actually do at a firm. But someone who goes to law school is endowed with a magical quality that enables them to act as a “lawyer,” doing the same things many paralegals do but getting paid more.

More of this silliness is evident when you consider that most judges have people fresh out of law school—many of them not even admitted to the bar yet—write the bulk of their opinions who get no credit or are held accountable in any way. This includes Supreme Court justices.

Lawyers who were admitted to the bar have screwed things up much worse than this imposter ever did. Much of the legal profession rests on the fiction that you need to go to law school to do legal work. This allows lawyers to maintain high barriers to entry to the profession and charge exorbitant fees. It’s a government-sanctioned monopoly that often serves clients poorly. I think some sort of deregulation is in order.

1 comment:

Karla said...

You don't mean to say your three years of law school were useless! Student loans for nothing? Grandma will be shocked to hear that! Shocked!