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February 10, 2004

Dennis Kennedy Adds His Insight on Virtual English

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 10:29 am

E-lawyering guru Dennis Kennedy responded last night to two recent e&h posts with some helpful, but not totally satisfying, ideas. 


We had opined that using “virtual English” [that is, unreal, not-quite-apt English] to describe new forms of lawyering made possible by digital technology is often counterproductive for advancing the underlying concepts — because the average lawyer is turned off or confused by them.  One example was Dennis’ use of the term “virtual law firm.”  Dennis responded:

Fortunately, I cleverly defined the term in my article, in no small part to avoid the issues David raises. I use the term “virtual law firm” almost exclusively when my main audience will be the lawyers and technologists who have a familiarity with both the concept and the use of the term as short-hand. I don’t think that it makes any sense to use the term when the audience is the public at large. Even in other contexts, I tend to define the term because I use the term in the sense of non-formalized collaborations, almost in the sense of food co-ops in rural areas, but also in the sense of project teams as Tom Peters might describe them.

Picking your audience helps a lot, but Dennis’ articles appear in professional magazines that are trying to educate and convert a much wider spectrum of lawyers than the technological cognoscente.  His terminology becomes fixed, as it’s passed on down the line to the average lawyer (who might not get past the headline of an article saddled with such “virtual English” ). Calling a team or network a “law firm” bends the English language in a way that cannot be helpful for current or future communication. 

idea dude small   To me, the time to create nomenclature that is understandable and sellable is when you are first naming a concept.  As much as possible, the meaning of the term should be self-evident.  That being said, I totally embrace Dennis’ maxim that “The use of technology jargon, especially when combined with legal jargon, is both an occupational hazard and a practice to be avoided.” 

Responding to my post on disappeared Comments, Dennis also mentions the issue of using or not using Comments on a weblog, and cites to a good discussion by Megnut.   I agree with Dennis that it’s a question that is best left to each website owner/editor, and with Megnut that having the ability to turn Comments on and off for each post can be particularly useful.  My main point is that filtering out contrary opinions in comments and through Trackbacks — not for unacceptable tone but for commerical reasons — takes a lot of the enjoyment out of weblogging, as well as a lot of the sense of community. 

Bankruptcy and the Law Graduate

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 9:29 am

Britain’s Law Society is considering whether and how going bankrupt should affect the eligibility of law school graduates to become bar members (solicitors), according to a recent article in Legal Week. (thanks to The Legal Reader for the pointer)  The move is being made to “head off droves of law graduates declaring bankruptcy.”


The [UK] Legal Week article reports that a majority of top law firms in London would agree with a senior partner at a “magic circle firm” who said “I would take a very dim view of any student attempting to shirk his creditors by declaring bankruptcy.”  The article also states:

  • “Currently, qualified solicitors who declare themselves bankrupt usually go before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, although lawyers are rarely struck off for bankruptcy alone.  Concerns have also been heightened by last month’s Commons vote backing legislation to introduce university tuition fees.”
  • However, Linklaters graduate recruitment partner Simon Firth said that he would consider each student individually. “We would have a problem with someone who has done something improper, but there is a difference between getting into financial difficulty and someone trying to shirk their obligations,” he said.

“emptypockets”  We recently asked at this site whether substance abuse should affect bar admission.  And, I happened to pose the bankruptcy question a couple weeks ago while having lunch with a bankruptcy lawyer, a judge and a recent graduate.   Their consensus seemed to be “you shouldn’t be penalized for taking advantage of a perfectly lawful privilege.”  Both of those issues — plus whether the applicant had ever been treated for any mental illness (such as depression) — would certainly have been deemed relevant when I was seeking bar membership 30 years ago, as part of the applicant’s fitness review, but I don’t think the mere existence of such problems would have ended a law graduate’s career.  One thing is certain: rejecting an applicant for any of the above reasons would provoke a law suit in 21st Century America.


Many Brits think of Americans as quaintly Puritanical, but I don’t think our Puritan streak runs to financial matters — “greed is good” is, afterall, a mantra for much of our society.  What does bankruptcy tell us about a lawyer’s values?  Would we be hypocrites to pretend to care?  Your Comments are requested.

P.S.  It just occured to me to ask the question this way: “Would or should the client care that the first thing a lawyer did after graduating from law school was to declare bankruptcy to escape his or her debts?”  Maybe lawyers who choose bankruptcy should be required to then serve in a legal services office or do similar public service before cashing in on that law degree.  Hmmm.

update (Sept. 3, 2005):  Going through my Keyword Activity page, I ran across a Google query about bankruptcy and bar admission.   I number of state bar admission websites have the following Q&A, which is reproduced here from the FAQ webpage of the Georgia Office of Bar Admission:


The Fitness Board recognizes that law students sometimes have financial problems associated with the expense of law school, or with ongoing family obligations. The Board also recognizes that mishandling of client funds is a frequent and serious cause for professional discipline. Admission to the bar does not require a perfect credit record. The Board is interested in whether applicants have dealt honestly and responsibly with their creditors, and whether they are doing so at the time of application. Responsible dealings generally include but are not limited to keeping in contact with the creditor, making payment arrangements, and meeting the terms of those arrangements. Defaulted student loans and failure to make child support payments are of particular concern to the Board and may well lead to denial of admission if not resolved at the time of application or soon thereafter.


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