Thursday, January 16, 2014

Corporate lawyer achieves escape velocity

Image obtained from EVE Online
Debra Cassens Weiss has an article this morning on ABA Journal Law News Now entitled "Lawyer-turned-galactic overlord leaves BigLaw and achieves online success."

Alex Gianturco had a career defending white-collar crime cases for Washington, D.C.-based megafirm Zuckerman Spaeder LLP. But he was dissatisfied. He craved escape.

When James Thurber wrote "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," the careworn Mr. Mitty could only imagine alternate realities. Mr. Gianturco could immerse himself in computer games. In Gianturco's case, the game of choice was something called EVE Online. In the Wall Street Journal article that inspired Ms. Weiss's post this morning, David Román describes EVE Online as a "popular space-combat game," a "rarity among games based on virtual universes" because, a decade after launch, it has a still-growing subscriber base (at a cost of $14.95 a month).

Gianturco's game persona, The Mittani, scratched and clawed his way to the head of the Goonswarm Alliance, leading, Román writes, "the 37,000 players of the larger CFC coalition." His path to the top of the virtual heap apparently involved stealth and espionage, not swashbuckling and weaponry. But he was still practicing law on his way up. Once Gianturco achieved his virtual success, he jettisoned the day job and moved, with his (presumably very understanding) wife, to Madison, Wisconsin, planning to live off his savings and maintain his precarious hold at the top of the EVE Online heap.

An incident at a 2011 gaming conference in Iceland -- Gianturco admits to being inebriated and "berating" another player -- led him to found his own website,, covering games generally and the EVE Online universe in particular.

I don't pretend to understand any of this. My kids will tell you that I couldn't get the hang of the most basic Playstation controls when they were growing up. They made fun of my attempts to avoid conflicts and build trade routes in various editions of Sid Meier's Civilization. (You're supposed to start wars, they'd tell me.) And, of course, when I want to escape to a different world, I still sometimes read books. With actual pages and bindings and such.

But I understood this much: Mr. Gianturco has built such a successful website that he has attracted the attention of the Wall Street Journal. He admits to making a "comfortable living" from the ads on As the proprietor of a couple of websites, that's certainly enough to fire my imagination....

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Woman sues divorce lawer for failing to advise her that divorce would end her marriage

Several British newspapers -- the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror, and the Independent, to name three -- are reporting today that a British woman is suing her lawyers for professional negligence (malpractice) because they 'failed' to tell her that getting a divorce would, in fact, end her marriage.

Tomas Jivanda's story in the Independent reports that, among her malpractice claims, Jane Mulcahy charged that her "lawyers failed to regard her Roman Catholic faith and should have recommended judicial separation - a step down from full divorce - as an alternative course of action."

The case did not attract public attention when it was initially dismissed; the story got picked up when the appeal was likewise thrown out.

The story is amusing, another illustration of the idea that people sue for the darndest reasons, and it gives readers something to feel smug about (how could anyone not know that divorce ends marriage? we chortle).

Except, of course, if Mrs. Mulcahy were so devout a Catholic, she would know that even a legal divorce would not end her marriage, not in the eyes of the Church. Perhaps what really upset her was that, once divorced, her ex-husband was free to marry in the eyes of the law, if not the Church -- maybe he did marry -- when a "judicial separation" would have prevented it.

Whatever it might be, there is surely a more accurate explanation for Mrs. Mulcahy's quixotic suit against her divorce lawyers than her (allegedly) not knowing that divorce ends a marriage. The truth probably wouldn't be nearly as amusing; newspapers -- and bloggers -- probably wouldn't be nearly as interested.

But there is a cautionary tale in here for lawyers generally: Clients come to us and tell us what they think they want. Our job isn't just to give them what they ask for, assuming that we can, but to ascertain what they may really want and need. That might not be what they asked for at all. On the Illinois license it says we are attorneys and counselors. Often, we need to be both.

Two steps forward and one step back: Singing the Blue Cart Blues

We were thrilled, of course, when we finally got our genuine, official Chicago blue cart for recycling, the first serious recycling program here on the Northwest Side of Chicago since our pilot "blue bins" program was discontinued some 20 years ago or more.

You'll note that I do not mention the "blue bag" fantasy years. Even those who believed firmly in faerie circles and unicorn glades had trouble accepting the idea that recyclables protected only by blue plastic bags would really be recycled when they saw them smashed in the back of the same truck that compacted the rest of the garbage. Especially when the mandatory blue bags were just a bit thinner than the typical plastic trash bag, and significantly more expensive.

Anyway, for years and years, anyone wanting to really recycle had to bring their stuff to giant bins set up at a handful of locations around the City -- Caldwell Woods, for example, at Milwaukee and Devon. These were almost always overflowing. (Recently, perhaps in recognition of this fact, the City had set up another bin at the 41st Ward yard on Higgins.) The alternative was to bring the family recycling to the homes of friends and relatives in more enlightened municipalities. Park Ridge is close by. Park Ridge has had blue carts for years.

But, finally, we had our own blue cart. It seemed the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.


Well, the first disappointment was that the blue carts would only be picked up every other week. We didn't realize, at first, the problems that this would cause.

Our blue cart was proudly stuffed to overflowing for the first pick-up. It was overflowing, too, for the second pick-up. And the third. In the meantime, stuff that wouldn't fit was piling up in the garage. Fortunately, Hoarders has been cancelled; I was starting to worry that their location scouts would start prowling around.

Finally, on a snowy weekend afternoon around Christmas, my son Jim and I filled the family van with cardboard and shredded paper and other recyclables that never seemed to fit in the blue cart and headed over to the 41st Ward Yard to get rid of the surplus.

But the giant bin was gone.

We went to Caldwell Woods.

Both giant bins were gone.

Why? Why would the City discontinue collecting stuff it can sell? Did the City tie itself up with a non-compete clause when it signed up with Waste Management to belatedly expand the blue cart program?

Defeated, we returned all our stuff to the garage.

We got rid of it today.

The City did not make our regular garbage pickup yesterday. That was no surprise, not even a disappointment. We've had some extreme weather in these parts, two feet of snow and freezing cold, and these recent "Chiberian" conditions stretched the resources of the Department of Streets and San to the breaking point. But looking out at the curb this morning, looking at the overflowing blue cart and the half empty black cart, and knowing there was another entirely empty black cart emerging from a melting snowdrift on the side of the house, something in me snapped.

I threw all the cardboard out. Anything I couldn't wedge in the blue cart went into the black carts. All were overflowing before I was done. I know it was wrong. But I think it was necessary.

Now if we could just get an electronics recycling day scheduled somewhere nearby, I might get my garage back. Meanwhile I'm singing the Blue Cart Blues....

Thursday, January 2, 2014

'What did you do at work today' can be a dangerous (and expensive) question for a lawyer: A likely case in point

The Chicago Tribune reports this evening that the Solicitors Regulation Authority has "issued a written rebuke" and hit a British lawyer, Chris Gossage, a partner at Russells Solicitors, with a fine of £1,000 (roughly $1,650) for revealing that J.K. Rowling, the creator of the Harry Potter series, had published a detective novel last year under a pseudonym.

Rowling wanted to publish a book without having it compared to her Harry Potter heptalogy. So, just like any self-respecting billionaire author, Rowling arranged with her publisher, Little Brown, to have The Cuckoo's Calling published under the fictitious name of Robert Galbraith, complete with an extensive publicity campaign about the "first-time" author, supposedly a former plainclothes Royal Military Police investigator who had left the force in 2003 to work in the civilian security industry.

"Galbraith's" book got good reviews -- which Ms. Rowling found quite gratifying -- but not many copies were sold (somewhere between 500 and 1,500 depending on the source consulted).

Sales were weak, that is, until lawyer Gossage let slip to his wife, or to his wife's BFF, one Judith Callegari, that Rowling was the real author. Either way, Callegari tweeted the juicy tidbit to a British journalist and author, India Knight, and the secret unraveled soon thereafter. Once this happened, Wikipedia notes, "sales of the book rose by 4000 percent, and Little Brown printed an additional 140,000 copies to meet the increase in demand."

Naturally, Rowling was devastated by the unauthorized disclosure, and infuriated. She sued Callegari, Gossage and Gossage's firm.

OK, the rich really are different from you and me. (Rowling's suit settled with the firm making a substantial donation to a charity designated by Rowling.)

But the point is that Rowling had the right to publish her book under any name she wanted -- and she had every reason to expect that her lawyers would respect her right to use the pseudonym. With few exceptions, lawyers in Britain and Illinois alike are required to maintain client confidences.

In Illinois, lawyers confidentiality obligations are set out at Rule 1.6 of our Rules of Professional Conduct.

Rule 1.6 provides:
(a) A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation, or the disclosure is permitted by paragraph (b) or required by paragraph (c).

(b) A lawyer may reveal information relating to the representation of a client to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary:
(1) to prevent the client from committing a crime in circumstances other than those specified in paragraph (c);

(2) to prevent the client from committing fraud that is reasonably certain to result in substantial injury to the financial interests or property of another and in furtherance of which the client has used or is using the lawyer’s services;

(3) to prevent, mitigate or rectify substantial injury to the financial interests or property of another that is reasonably certain to result or has resulted from the client’s commission of a crime or fraud in furtherance of which the client has used the lawyer’s services;

(4) to secure legal advice about the lawyer’s compliance with these Rules;

(5) to establish a claim or defense on behalf of the lawyer in a controversy between the lawyer and the client, to establish a defense to a criminal charge or civil claim against the lawyer based upon conduct in which the client was involved, or to respond to allegations in any proceeding concerning the lawyer’s representation of the client; or

(6) to comply with other law or a court order.
(c) A lawyer shall reveal information relating to the representation of a client to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm.

(d) Information received by a lawyer participating in a meeting or proceeding with a trained intervener or panel of trained interveners of an approved lawyers’ assistance program, or in an intermediary program approved by a circuit court in which nondisciplinary complaints against judges or lawyers can be referred, shall be considered information relating to the representation of a client for purposes of these Rules.
Even the casual reader will note that there is no exception in the rule for telling your spouse or significant other a really good story. There is no such exemption in Britain either, which is why Mr. Gossage is out £1,000 tonight.

So, to any non-lawyers married or in a relationship with a lawyer: When you ask how things are going at work, or whether anything interesting happened at the office today, and you get a grunt or a shrug or a few meaningless syllables in response, please don't take offense.