Techdirt, the website of geeks everywhere, discovered Rakofsky v. Internet yesterday, proving yet again that it’s a source for cutting edge news and information. This prompted Mark Bennett, who has maintained a compendium of Rakofsky posts, to note :
Twice as many Google cites for Rakofsky in May (post-lawsuit) as in April (pre-lawsuit, post-Deaner case). #TheRakofskyEffect
And that prompted Antonin Pribetic to note that he coined the phrase, The Rakofsky Effect. This is the lawyer version of the Streisand Effect, which is widely understood as one of the fundamental mistakes made in challenging speech on the internet by threats, causing not only failure of the primary mission, the elimination of unwanted speech, but the creation of a larger problem, the magnification of the unwanted speech and causing it to be disseminate far wider in reaction to the effort to shut it down.
The Rakofsky Effect is the lawyer version, having gone beyond the mere cease and desist letters that Babs attempted, much to her dismay, but to initiate a flagrantly absurd lawsuit against much of the internet. Of course, the amended complaint was premature, as the Rakofsky Effect had only begun, and there are now many more putative defendants out there trumpeting the lesson.
And that’s the point: The lesson. This isn’t happening for the sole benefit of one young, foolish lawyer, or even his slightly more experienced but similarly foolish counsel in the lawsuit, whose breath of arrogance, though astounding, will surely leave him wishing he never rented that Regus office on Wall Street to pretend that he’s a high priced Wall Street lawyer who was just slumming when he advertised in the Pennysaver.
Few matters offer more lessons than this one. It offers lessons about competence. Lessons about marketing. Lessons about responsibility, honesty, integrity. About greed. It offers lessons about hole-digging and making a bad situation worse. For young lawyers, particularly the Slackoisie, this is a case study that should be taught in every law school in the country. Any lawprof teaching professional responsibility who neglects the Rakofsky Effect has not fulfilled his duty.
What this is not is about a large group of experienced and accomplished lawyers beating up on some dumb kid. Dan Hull argues that the blawgosphere’s coverage of this matter has made blawgers look “Small, Prissy, Idle, Low-Rent & Mean.” Why he’s felt it incumbent upon himself to take up arms here is hard to fathom, given that it’s not a reflection on him and it’s a curious decision to become a self-appointed scold of those more knowledgable and involved.
If this was about beating up on young Joseph Rakofsky, however, Hull would be right. It would be unseemly to beat up on so unworthy an adversary. But as understandable as it may be why, from a safe distance, it might appear this way, it’s not and never has been. It’s all about the lessons.
There are still more lessons learned, and to be learned, from this sordid affair. As Brian Tannebaum has noted, there has been a battle brewing between “lawyers” selling marketing, technology and social media as the future of lawyering. While hyping the sale, the lies, the deception and the magic bullet cure-all for lawyer wealth and prestige, their game is laid bare by their failure to grab hold of the Rakofsky Effect and adopt its lessons. Their silence reveals that they are the progenitors of this type of disgraceful conduct, and their fear that the Rakofsky Effect will reveal the emptiness of their claims and harmfulness of their message.
To the extent that the cheerleaders of marketing claimed to tacitly believe that competence and integrity were too obvious for mention as they taught lawyers how to play the internet for fame and fortune, their silence reveals a lesson that can’t be ignored: They care only for the self-promotion, the client be damned.
Rakofsky v. Internet has already become the bar by which lawyer behavior, in the courtroom and on the internet, is judged. It’s lessons are legion, and to ignore them is counterproductive, if not revealing in itself. Don’t get caught up in the trivia of what one dumb kid did, or the details of a lawsuit destined to be the bellweather of bad legal judgment. Focus on the message that this offers to every lawyer, young and old, about how this powerful sword has two edges, one that can cut a fool’s legs out from under him and take a horrible situation and make in unimaginably worse.
These are lessons that must be told. Tell them. Tell them often, clearly and loudly. Let this be the last time a lawyer does what this young lawyer did. There is much good that can come from this sordid affair, and we would be remiss not to make that happen. It’s all about the lessons.