Attorney E-Newsletter

March 2010

By the Numbers

The statistics for disciplinary dispositions are in for 2009. The full table is posted here.

Numbers were down a bit across all the dispositions except for reinstatements:

  2008 2009
Informal Admonitions 90 62
Private Reprimand 25 23
Probation 15 9
Public Censure 5 4
Suspension 45 40
Disbarment 38 29
Reinstatement Granted 82 84
Reinstatement Denied 1 3
  301 254

We do not have any explanation why the numbers were lower this year than they were in 2008. There were fewer total dispositions in 2007 and 2009 than in the period from 2004-2006, but the dispositions are considerably above the 2000-2003 levels:

Year 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
176 203 235 234 313 322 312 249 301 254

The attorney registration stats may be of interest, too. Currently, there are:

  • 62,037 lawyers on active status with the Pennsylvania bar
  • 18,454 on inactive status
  • 11,879 retired, and
  • 175 on administrative suspension[1] for a total of 92,535 lawyers.

Also, 12 attorneys paid their annual fees with checks marked as drawn on a trust or escrow account, prompting an immediate inquiry from Disciplinary Counsel.[2] Eighty-seven paid with checks drawn on insufficient funds; four of which were still outstanding at press time. Not smart.

IOLTA Board Publishes Reports

For those interested in the nitty-gritty, the Pennsylvania Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts Board has published its 2009 Annual Report. The report includes a lot of figures and statistics, but it also includes anecdotes and stories about the work that is financed by the Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts program. The Board has also published its Five-Year Report on the Results of the Pennsylvania Access to Justice Act, 42 Pa. C. S. Section 4901 et. seq. [Executive Summary][Full Report]. We’ll take a closer look at these reports next month.

As We Were Saying . . .

As usual, there are continuing developments to stories we have covered in past issues.

Last month, we reported on the proposed change in the Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement regarding criminal convictions to begin disciplinary proceedings upon a plea of guilty or jury verdict, rather than postponing them until sentencing. This proposal has been published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin at 40 Pa.Bull. 1066 (February 27, 2010). Comments will be accepted until April 1, 2010.

On the same issue, the fact that a lawyer was still practicing after his guilty plea caught the attention of a columnist at the Allentown Morning Call. The reporter wrote a column on the topic which was picked up in the ABA Journal. Fortunately, both noted that a rule change to address the situation is pending.

We have reported several times on the infamous “pants suit” by former administrative law judge Roy Pearson, which came to grief for everyone involved. Apparently the lessons have not been easily learned. A Houston attorney has written letters to the City of Houston, its airport concession company, and Continental airlines demanding compensation for an $800 coat which he left behind in a food court while grabbing a slice of pizza before his flight. William Ogletree takes the position that the defendants should have “collected the coat, kept it in a secure place and held it for a reasonable period of time for the owner to locate it.” The food court may be the court where that claim receives its most sympathetic reception.

Lawyer Advertising: Faith and Franks

In slow times, many lawyers have been looking for new approaches to finding business, and this month brings stories of two venues of lawyer marketing that are, shall we say, nontraditional.

The ABA Journal reports that one new venue for lawyer advertising is churches, many of which have been supplementing falling contributions by offering business announcement space in their bulletins and other publications. This approach works best, the article suggests, if the lawyer who uses this service is an active member of the church community.

In the opposite direction, a Houston hot dog vendor who stations his cart outside the courthouse has found a reliable revenue stream by offering lawyers space for up to six advertising signs. His clients report that the signs have brought in some new business. However, the article reports that the sign space is “rarely full.”

Our Readers Feed Back (or is that Fight Back?)

The item in the February issue which elicited the most comment from our readers was the one on Judge Robert Kressel’s guidelines for legal writing. If anything, our correspondents would go further than the Judge in rooting out the pompous, the redundant, and the just plain silly in legal writing.

Charles Forer challenges the judge to do even better. He writes,

The following suggested language can be shortened considerably.

The Judge's suggested text: “This case came before the court on the motion of First National Bank seeking relief from the automatic stay.”

Why not: "First National Bank seeks relief from the automatic stay." Obviously it is a motion -- why else are we talking about it? Obviously, it is before the court. Is it "before" someone or something else? And obviously it is in this case. Um, what other case would it be in?

Len Spagnolo takes issue with the common remonstrance to “Enclosed please find”:

Think about it. The sender is asking the recipient to please “find” an enclosure in a 4x9 inch container. That is not the stuff challenges are made of, which leads me to these observations: One, if the recipient has been sufficiently adroit in letter spelunking to find the cover letter inside, chances are quite good that he or she will find the nearby enclosure. So no entreaty to “find” is necessary. Two, if the sender harbors any doubt about the recipient’s ability to find the contents in a 4x9 inch envelope, it is likely that the substance of the enclosures will be lost on that recipient anyway. So why send the letter and enclosure at all? My suggestion: say “Enclosed is.”

Daniel B. Evans sides with Judge Kressel in supporting a blanket ban on “and/or”:

The worst use of "and/or" that I have ever seen was a warning sign on a gas pump that said that it was illegal to dispense gasoline into a container unless it was "metal and/or approved by the fire marshal." Well, which is it? Must the container be either metal *OR* approved by the fire marshal, or must it be made of metal *AND* approved by the fire marshal? Either "and" or "or" would have provided a clear meaning, but the phrase "and/or" made the sentence ridiculously ambiguous. Adding phrases such as "or any of them" or "one or more of the following" when necessary is much clearer (and more grammatical) than relying on ungrammatical, short-hand jargon like "and/or."

Frank Chmielewski also agrees with the critique of “and/or,” and provides a delightful New Jersey chancery case, Estate of Massey, which contains an extended critique of all that is wrong with the phrase. Our thanks to John L. Pritchard for posting the opinion.

Mr. Chmielewski also cites another problematical term – the use of 12:00 AM or PM for noon. He notes,

There are conventions that say noon is 12 M (simply m., for meridiem, Latin for the middle of the day) and midnight is 12 PM, since it really belongs to the day that is ending. But you often see noon as 12 PM and midnight as 12 AM. Or 12 M meaning 12 midnight. I was happy to see a no-parking sign in Norristown that uses "12 noon."

Both Lynn Ahwesh and Jeanne Trivellini observe that our use of “omphaloskeptic self-examination” is redundant. We felt pretty proud of ourselves for tossing out a word we were pretty sure no one would know, only to be called on its use. Tough room! Ms. Trivellini adds,

Good Greek derivatives, omphalos=navel, and skepsis, close critical observation or examination. Skeptical to them was a term of admiration, one who was skeptical was looking closely and testing each premise through rigorous dialectic. Very lawyerly.

James K. Jones ties together two of our articles by pointing out that Pa.R.D.E. 214(i) defines a serious crime as “a crime that is punishable by imprisonment for one year or upward in this or any other jurisdiction.” He asks, “How do we know if a crime is punishable by imprisonment for one year or upward in this or any other jurisdiction? Anyone have a copy of the Iranian and/or North Korean Crimes Code?” We think it was intended to mean “in the jurisdiction where the person is convicted,” but it doesn’t say that, does it?

Finally, in the best wiseguy tradition of the legal profession, Peter D. Leahey writes,

We, And/Or the Undersigned, are in Receipt of Your Advice And/Or Guidelines. Don't Capitalize??? Don't use And/Or??? How Come/Why Not???

Our thanks to the readers who share their observations with us, often with impressive erudition and good humor.

Calling All Peep Performers!

Finally, in celebration of the spring holiday season, the ABA Journal is offering Peeps in Law Part Deux, its second annual contest for representation of themes relating to law starring marshmallow peeps. The competition, led by a depiction of the swearing in of Justice Sonia Sotopeepor, is fierce, but the field is thin as yet. Those with the sucrosian[3] creativity to compete have until April 2 to submit their entries. According to the article, “Peeps maker Just Born will reward top submissions with Peeps prize packs filled with Peeps treats and treasures worth $150 and $100.” Go for the glory!

Got a Tip?

Or a question, a comment, an idea you’d like to see addressed? We are always glad to hear from you. Write us at

[1] This number may, however, swell dramatically. 785 Active and 2,143 Inactive attorneys were certified to the Supreme Court for an Order of Administrative Suspension for nonpayment of their attorney 's annual fee. The Order was issued March 3, 2010 and is effective April 2, 2010. Currently, 599 Active and 1,929 Inactive attorneys remain in this status.

[2] The ethical equivalent of a “Please kick me” sign.

[3] Yes, we know about the creatures in Dr. Who.