This week’s highlights
- Report shows that demand for legal services soared in 2021, but firms still needed to raise prices to make up for pandemic-related business levels
- Maryland attorney sentenced to 1 year in prison for blackmailing and abusing woman he met on a sugar daddy website
- ABA Spring Conference no longer an in-person event, pivoted to virtual
- Supreme Court of Virginia upholds 4-year suspension for attorney who helped conceal shipwreck gold
- Class action lawsuit filed claiming that Ziploc bags are not as superior and technologically advanced as they claim
- Illinois attorney could face disciplinary action after calling another attorney “a piece of poop”
2022 Report on the State of the Legal Market finds promising results
This 2022 report by the Center on Ethics and the Legal Profession at Georgetown University Law Center and the Thomson Reuters Institute has promising news for firms and legal professionals, plus some concerning trends to watch.
The report found that demand for legal services grew rapidly from 2020, though that demand has not yet recovered to pre-pandemic levels.
This year’s report shows that demand for legal services soared in 2021 following a disappointing start, driven primarily by real estate and corporate practice areas, both of which not only recovered losses from 2020, but even exceeded their pre-pandemic demand levels. Litigation, however, remains below pre-pandemic levels. To boost profitability, law firms continued to raise their billing rates aggressively last year, which — coupled with rising realization rates — helped to secure another year of strong profits for many law firms. (From Thomson Reuters)
Another trend to watch, this report found that attorney turnover has risen to record levels, “edging dangerously close to firms losing one-quarter of their associates in 2021.” Read the full report here.
Former attorney sentenced for blackmailing a woman he met on a sugar daddy website
Steven B. Fabrizio, a former attorney in the film industry, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for blackmail and abuse against a woman he met on a website called SeekingArrangement. All but one year of the sentence was suspended on the condition that Fabrizio completes three years of supervised probation. He will also be required to register as a sex offender after his release from prison.
Fabrizio was fired from his position as global general counsel for the Motion Picture Association of America after he was charged in August 2019. He pleaded guilty in July 2021 to one count each of blackmail and third-degree sexual abuse. (From ABA Journal)
After meeting on the website and making arrangements to meet, the woman declined to see Fabrizio again. He threatened to tell her family, landlord, and employers that she had accepted money for sex, coercing her into meeting a second time, during which he abused her.
Fabrizio’s law license was suspended on an interim basis in Washington, D.C., last month.
The American Bar Association’s annual Spring Conference converted to a virtual-only event
Though the ABA Spring Conference was originally scheduled to take place Los Angeles, California, the concern over rising COVID cases has prompted organizers to cancel all in-person activities in favor of a fully virtual event. The change was announced on the event website:
After careful consideration of the current COVID landscape and out of concern for the safety of our fellow dispute resolution professionals, we have made the difficult decision to pivot our Joint Spring Conference from in-person in Los Angeles to an entirely virtual format. As many of you know, we had previously made a successful pivot for our 2020 conference and our 2021 conference was completely online. Both conferences were successful. Please stay tuned for further details about the 2022 virtual Spring Conference. (From the ABA)
Organizers will reach out directly to those who have already made arrangements to sponsor, speak, or attend. Other legal conferences have also announced changes, including Legalweek, which was rescheduled from January to March.
Virginia Supreme Court upholds suspension for lawyer who helped client conceal gold from a shipwreck
Attorney Richard Robol represented salvage operation owner Thomas G. Thompson throughout the 1990s and 2000s. During that time, a federal judge ordered Thompson to disclose the location of 500 gold coins missing from the wreck of the S.S. Central America, which Thompson’s company had salvaged. Thompson instead ran, and he was arrested by US Marshals in 2015.
Robol was sanctioned by an Ohio district court in 2013 for failing to produce inventories despite seven years of litigation.
Robol argued that he reasonably relied on Thompson’s claims that the documents the court wanted didn’t exist—but these documents were found a few hours after a creditor seized file cabinets belonging to one of Thompson’s business entities. After withdrawing as Thompson’s counsel, Robol tried to get his hands on some of the gold as well. But an Ohio District Court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Robol could not claim a portion of the salvage award because he did not voluntarily turn over the inventory documents. (From FindLaw)
When the Virginia State Bar found that Robol had violated Ohio’s Rules of Professional Conduct, they suspended his license for four years. His appeal was not successful as the Virginia Supreme Court found that the suspension was valid.
Class action lawsuit filed against Ziploc
A class action suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on January 2, 2022 against S.C. Johnson & Son Inc. over misleading claims about Ziploc bags.
The claims of misleading marketing center around two specific claims. On Ziploc boxes, there are prominent marketing claims of “Power Shield Technology – Unbeatable Protection” and “Grip’n Seal Technology – Unbeatable Freshness.” The suit alleges that these claims lead consumers to believe that Ziploc possesses some kind of advanced technology that makes it far superior to competitors, but the product itself is not superior to similar products.
The plaintiff alleges that consumers understand certain “technology” claims regarding “unbeatable” food protection and preservation on the front labels of various Ziploc® products to mean that the plastic storage bags have advanced qualities which allow unique benefits but are false and misleading because other products provide similar food protection. (From The National Law Review)
Illinois attorney could face disciplinary action over abusive emails to opposing counsel
Attorney Felipe Nery Gomez could be facing a recommended three-year suspension after sending abusive emails to opposing counsel.
The emails, referenced in disciplinary documents, call the other lawyer “piece of poop” and threaten to “flay him on a public pillory.” Gomez is accused of sending abusive, harassing, or threatening emails to seven attorneys.
“[Gomez’s] conduct was extreme and egregious,” the hearing board panel wrote. “The abusive and aggressive language respondent directed toward the seven attorneys involved in this matter has no place in the practice of law and brings the legal profession into dispute.” (From Law.com)
At the moment, the panel reviewing these accusations does not feel that Gomez’s actions are extreme enough to warrant disbarment.
From Law.com, here is one of the communications in question:
“Dont [sic] pull your crap on me. Schmuckz [sic] and your firm are scum of the Earth and need to be abated. Under RICO I am private AG and doing the abating, since you seem very cozy with the USA here and since this office seems frozen, except for letting crooks like Shock [sic] get off and then allow him to attack a fellow AUSA who wanted to do the right thing and prosecute that piece of poop,” Gomez allegedly wrote in an email to then-Barnes & Thornburg deputy general counsel Steven Badger about his partner at the firm, Vincent P. Schmeltz III, who represented Charles Schwab. “BT is in my opinion a scumbag firm as evidenced by the repeated flaunting of the Rules whilst impugning a named party for not following them. You will be pursued for harassing me after i told you to bug off. Get outside Counsel. Be an Attorney not a thug. DO NOT CONTACT ME DIRECTLY IDIOT.”