The Neophyte Lawyer: Year One
Day 27: L’Affair Rakofsky (UPDATED 06/23/11)
Recently, the legal blogosphere has been all atwitter (Ablogspot? Awordpress? Afacebook?) about the actions of a New Jersey attorney named Joseph Rakofsky. Mr. Rakofsky had a bad experience in a murder trial in Washington, D.C. This bad experience was widely reported, in the press and in numerous blawgs (for all of you civilians out there, that’s shorthand for “legal blogs.” See, it’s like a pun, but without the funny part.). Many of these blawgs indicated that Mr. Rakofsky was incompetent, and some questioned his online marketing campaign from an ethical standpoint. Mr. Rakofsky responded by suing many of these folks for defamation.
The case has become known as “Rakofsky v. the Internet.” Mr. Rakofsky has since amended the original complaint to add more defendants; so far, over 80 individuals, organizations, and URLs have been named. It’s been interesting to watch, to say the least.
I’ve been somewhat hesitant to bring up this subject before now. As a new attorney, and a new blogger, this entire incident is a little frightening on several levels. My wife has been pushing me to blog about this for a month, in the hopes that I would wind up named as a defendant in the next amended complaint. I’m not so keen on that, but this could be, as they say, a teaching moment, so here we go.
There is a lot here, so I’ll try to sum up. If you want to learn more, either look at Mark Bennett’s compendium of Rakofsky-related posts, or type “Joseph Rakofsky” into your search engine of choice. Eric L. Mayer also has a pretty good summary of the initial stage of this situation.
Joseph Rakofsky is a 2009 graduate of Touro Law Center in New York. He was admitted to the New Jersey Bar in April 2010. He set up a nifty web page (since removed, alas) claiming “extensive” experience in all aspects of criminal law. Based on this experience, he was retained to defend one Dontrell Deaner, charged with murder in the District of Columbia.
Apparently, Mr. Rakofsky didn’t do a very good job of defending Mr. Deaner. The judge declared a mistrial. According to the trial transcripts, the judge said that Mr. Rakofsky’s performance fell “below what any reasonable person would expect in a murder trial.” This was commented on by the Washington Post, the American Bar Association Journal, and a bunch of blawgs around the country.
Mr. Rakofsky didn’t appreciate all of this negative press. So, in response, he found another attorney to represent him, and he sued people for damages. A lot of people. There were 74 named defendants in the initial complaint. Mr. Rakofsky’s counsel later amended the complaint to name even more defendants.
Mr. Rakofsky wants to prevent all of these folks from posting his name or image on the internet. So far, it hasn’t worked out that well (go back to the results page to your search of “Joseph Rakofsky”).
Neophyte Lawyer’s Thoughts
I find this whole affair kind of sad, no matter how it plays out. If the blawgosphere is correct, Mr. Rakofsky is the poster child for incompetent lawyering and unethical legal marketing. He claimed to be more than he was. He took on more than he could handle. He botched his case so badly that the judge reprimanded him for incompetence. Rather than accept the criticism heaped upon him, he did the legal equivalent of throwing a temper tantrum, filing suit against everyone who was rude to him. That takes, as we are fond of saying out here in Utah, a lot of chutzpah.
On the other hand, what if Mr. Rakofsky is right? What if the judge, the press and the bloggers all got it wrong? What if he has been unfairly characterized as the poster child for incompetent lawyering? How does he reclaim his reputation? Seriously, how can someone recover from such a public tarring and feathering, given that anyone can get on the Interwebz, say any crazy thing they want, and it stays there forever?
Sure, Mr. Rakofsky made some (a bunch) of mistakes at the outset, as Mark Bennett documents. I hope this is not indicative of the majority of recent law school graduates, myself included. I would like to think that this situation is the statistical anomaly, but I have no real concrete evidence one way or the other.
I don’t know how things work in New Jersey. Here in Utah, new lawyers are required to go through a New Lawyers Training Program, where we work with a mentor to develop not only our practical skills, but also our understanding of professionalism, ethics and civility. Does that mean that we have no legal ethics problems in the Beehive State? No. But at least we have a mechanism in place to help guide new lawyers through that sometimes difficult transition from law student to lawyer.
Mr. Rakofsky appears to have made one mistake right at the outset. He claimed to be more than he was. Perhaps that was out of fear that, in these difficult economic times, potential clients would look at his inexperience as a negative. To me, that seems like a non-issue. We all have to start somewhere.
I graduated from law school in 2010. I was admitted to the Utah State Bar in May of 2011. I am, as they say in computer game terms, a n00b. There is no shame in that. I think I make my relative inexperience fairly clear, both here on Black’s Blawg and on my LinkedIn profile. As will all new lawyers, I have to “pay my dues.” Instant fame and notoriety is vastly overrated, compared with developing a reputation as dependable, competent and honest. As I sincerely hope Joseph Rakofsky is learning right now.
Here are the latest developments in Rakofsky v. The Internet:
Richard Borzouye, Mr. Rakofsky’s attorney, has asked to withdraw from the case. For more, read Eric Turkewitz’s blog entry here (and you really should be reading his New York Personal Injury Law Blog anyway) and the Crime & Federalism blog here.
Crime & Federalism also mentions Mr. Rakofsky’s oppostion to the admission of Marc Randazza pro hac vice on behalf of 35 of the defendants. According to the motion, Mr. Rakofsky’s main issue is that Mr. Randazza told him in a telephone conference to “shut the fuck up.” Mr. Turkewitz, in the article linked above, provides Mr. Randazza’s response affidavit, which has more background information.
Finally, Mr. Turkewitz has a run-down of the most recent pleadings filed in the case, including the first round of motions to dismiss.
As one of the comments on the New York Personal Injury Law Blog says, this case is the gift that keeps on giving….