Consumer Beware

One of the gravest benefits claimed online is its resource to consumers.  It offers some wonderful advice and information, but it similar offers some of the worst, most ignorant and potentially dangerous consumer “advice” as well.  The problem, of course, is that the consumer seeking information is incapable of discerning which is which.

An example of the bad stuff was found by Houston criminal defense lawyer Mark Bennett, when he came across a post at what purports to be a consumer guide website, and a post about how to select a lawyer for a white collar criminal case.  Who, in the great wide world of possible people to author such advice, is the anointed expert on such matters?

Robert Rava is a dude who aged in herringbone jacket at Yale, galloped around French West Africa in the Peace Corps, and later worked as a screenwriter and story editor in Angel City, Australia, Iceland, and Russia. Two years ago, with the encouragement of Mary Ellen Mark, he began photographing.

Yes, he is a dude.  For the record, the word “dude”, when self-attributed, is a primary indicator of stunted adolescence.  That aside, Rava lacks any qualifications to assist consumers.  That, however, doesn’t stop him from writing, or the website from publishing, his ignorant screed.  All for the benefit of consumers.

This is what Rava offers to educate the public:

Any short list of high-end white-collar defense attorneys should be composed of former government prosecutors. That is, lawyers who’ve “flipped,” as they say in the under-worldly language of criminal law. It’s these highly skilled attorneys who understand the prosecutorial mindset, and can anticipate the cunning strategies they’ll employ against you.

As much as you might resent these well-dressed law enforcement officials, with their farrago of lies and defamations, you nevertheless want a defense attorney who has a friendly relationship with them. Government prosecutors and agents automatically give more credibility to defense attorneys who’ve forged their legal skills as prosecutorial attack dogs.

This makes perfect sense, provided you are a clueless simpleton.  Bennett, because he can’t control himself when he sees a windmill in need of tilting, sought to “clarify” Rava’s expert advice.

Sure, if you want to race down to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, spill your guts, plead guilty and hope for a reduced sentence, a former prosecutor is perfect.

But if you want to fight your case, hire a lawyer who has made a career out of keeping people out of prison, rather than putting them in; who has always been on the side of the underdog; and who understands the prosecutorial mindset not because he’s a (“former”) prosecutor but because he’s spent years fighting the government and seen and countered the worst they can throw at him.

One might expect Bennett’s enormously sound advice to generate a chorus of appreciation, but no one thanks Don Quixote.  Instead, he became the target of the swarm, a cavalcade of uber-marketing eyeballs dedicated to the promotion of crap and the attack of anyone urging sanity. 

How do we know it’s not just some legitimate, random thoughts by others seeking to provide aid to the consumer?  It was made clear almost immediately, with this piece of promotional stupidity, pushing some former Bronx ADA kid whose sole claim to fame is that he is the single biggest internet self-promoter in New York City.  I’ve called him out in the past, not for his competence (about which I know nothing) but for his chutzpah, deceit and marketing tactics.  This is my personal favorite self-promotional line ever:

He personally obtained hundreds of victories in criminal court before even completing law school— while working under the District Attorney’s Office. 
Now there’s a legitimate confidence booster, right?  While the kid may actually be capable of defending someone, even if only a speeding ticket, his integrity will never overcome this bit of garbage. 

And this is what infiltrates the internet, the consumer help sites which purport to guide people seeking sound and meaningful advice, and those who use such sites to spread their marketing message.  Marketers will tell you that this is what you should do, how you should protect your turf and spread your brand. 

And this is what becomes of a lawyer who tries to counter the deception with a little honesty.

Mind you, Mark never said that former prosecutors cannot be good, even great, defense lawyers.  No one would say that, and it isn’t true.  The arguments of the swarm rely on the logical fallacy of the strawman, the fabrication of a false position and the attribution of that false position to the adversary, so that it can be easily knocked down.  Unfortunately, most people are unaware of logical fallacies, and find them naggingly persuasive.  It’s another of those “common sense” type things, where it appeals to people who get a headache when asked to think.

It reminds me of the Sy Syms motto, “an educated consumer is our best customer.”  They may claim to be there to help consumers, but the last thing the marketers want is an educated consumer.  Or to have Mark Bennett stumble on their website.

12 comments on “Consumer Beware

  1. Patrick

    From your Bronx friend: “Constitutionally protected hyperbole”

    I prefer Justice Cardozo’s term: “Mere puffery.” Seems to apply to Bennett’s friend as well.

  2. Dan

    I wonder if District Attorneys and U.S. Attorneys have ever thought much about all this former prosecutor nonsense. After all, the inference that is to be drawn by the consumer is their offices are corrupt, i.e., that their assistants will hand out favors to their former colleagues/friends/drinking buddies, and treat defendants represented by other lawyers differently.

  3. Ken

    For what it is worth, I don’t claim to clients that I can get them a sweet crony deal. I do say — accurately, I think — that I can get some AUSAs to return a call, and to listen to a pitch, more easily based on my relationship with them. But plenty of defense attorneys who were never AUSAs have built similar relationships.

  4. Windypundit

    The other thing is that if your lawyer is such good buddies with the prosecutors, why would he risk pissing them off to help you? Are you the client who benefits from his influence or the client who helps him earn it?

  5. SHG

    That’s a critical point, Windy.  With your career riding on your “connections”, how do you tell your former good buddies to go screw themselves when you have to, and burn all that good will?  You can’t.  And if they cut you a 2 point reduction on the last guy, what do you say when they want it back on the next guy? 

    The truth is that the outcome can be a product of a “favor” or respect/fear of a strong defense lawyer, or just the lawyer’s persuasiveness.  The greatest threat a defense lawyer can offer is to have the capability to try the case and win.  Who poses more of a threat, an ex-prosecutor who has never tried a case from the defense side, or a defense lawyer with 10, 50, 100 successful trials under his belt.  The former prosecutor may, someday, have that same experience, but he surely doesn’t have it by trying cases from the prosecution side.

  6. SHG

    Have any of your old cronies tried to sell you that it’s the best offer you’re going to get, and you better take it or you won’t get acceptance or global?  And you took the deal when everyone else held out, and later did far better? 

  7. Bill R

    This just proves that people will do anything to make money. Furthermore, those in need of an attorney must fully vet prospective counsel to ensure they don’t fall into this type of company.

  8. SHG

    I’ve seen that happen too, but I bet your old friends know that you wouldn’ fall for that nonsense.  You’re too smart and too tough.

  9. Jamie

    One of the best parts? After insisting you need to hire a former prosecutor as your current CDL, Rava highlights the Richard Scrushy case: 85 not guilty verdicts in a $2.7 billion dollar fraud case where tens of defendants had plead guilty, many testifying against Scrushy.

    Oh, and his lawyer… extremely accomplished in many areas of law, but he was never a former prosecutor.

  10. SHG

    To borrow dude language (so Rava will adequately understand), you just pwned him.  Well done.

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