Thursday, March 6, 2008

Libel, Free Expression, Performance Evaluation??

Sorry I haven't posted in a couple of weeks, but I have been debating how to best deal with the e-mail described in this post. I have decided that this post will probably be enough of a response to the person that sent the e-mail.

I was recently contacted by an attorney that works for a major firm. This attorney (staff or associate) was clearly one who was upset by a characterization of him/her on this website. S/He felt that the use of full names accompanied by a negative review constitutes “libel.” S/He felt that I should remove the names of any Associate or Staff Attorney in the comments section of the blog because s/he felt that “dragging their names through the mud” in a public forum is wrong and could harm their reputations. This attorney goes on to threaten that further action will be taken if such “libelous” behavior continues. While asking me to do this, this attorney also stated that s/he respects the rights of everyone to express their own opinions. I would like to post the entire e-mail, however, the attorney did not give me permission to do that. If the person writes in again to give me that permission, I would be more than happy to do this so that his/her full message can be clearly heard on this blog.

I realize that libel issues have been discussed extensively on other blogs, though this will be the first time here. So please, indulge me.

My sense is that all of the comments that have been made have been opinions that are based the commenter’s experiences, and therefore not libel under most legal uses of that term. Unless I am mistaken the First Amendment protects our rights to freely express ourselves and our opinions. Opinions in and of themselves are not false or incorrect; therefore I believe that no libel has been committed. Please provide your own analyses as you see fit.

Incidentally this brings up another issue for contractors. Even if you love contracting, there is no system to complain about the job that your supervisors are doing. Your Staff Attorneys and Associates are evaluated for further work based on their production, and their relationship with the associates and partners with whom they work, not on their relationship with some of the people that they work with most extensively, the contract attorneys. What this has led to at some firms (and it can clearly be seen in NYC) is that the Associates and Staff Attorneys treat the contractors like 5 year olds or like they are nothing.

Many law firms have review procedures for their associates and partners, it is what helps them to determine who should move up the partnership ladder, and who they will have to let go. Any mid or upper level associate or partner can tell you that they are evaluated from both above and below, and usually by anonymous evaluations. Some firms even go so far as to solicit the opinions of paralegals, secretaries, and other administrative staff as to how an attorney is doing. Contractors, however, do not get a say in the evaluation of Staff Attorneys and Associates, and these are the people that Staff Attorneys and some younger associates spend the most time with.

So, to the Staff Attorney/Associate that wrote me this e-mail, consider comments that you do not like as informal performance evaluations from your subordinates. Yes, you will always get a few people who are disgruntled, but with some of the rules that I have put in place, I am hoping for some fairer assessments.

There are a couple of more posts that I am planning to do in the next couple of days. I will be reaching into the mailbag for some topics, and I hope to get a post up about what the Supreme Court has been doing lately (Drug and Medical Device cases) which might reduce the need for contractor work. I also hope to get another union post up soon.

Until then fellow contractors and sheep,
The Black Sheep


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

"Some firms even go so far as to solicit the opinions of paralegals, secretaries, and other administrative staff as to how an attorney is doing."

Your demeaning opinion regarding paralegals, secretaries and other administrative staff is pretty evident from your post. Most people who fill such roles have more practical skills in their little fingers than you will ever have from your stellar document review career. A little humility is in order on your part.

Anonymous said...

That email is absolutely ridiculous. Is it libel to criticize a product in "consumer reports"? The best way to avoid criticism is by addressing the merits of criticism. The corret response to the way firms treat contract attorneys (a little like hookers) is to change firm behavior.

Tyler Durden said...

First, to 2:51: I think you may have misunderstood. The law firm, not Black Sheep, that seeks evaluations from staff that work “under” a mid-level associate may feel that it is going way down on the org chart when it solicits those opinions, even though some staff members may have more years of experience than that associate. Think about it.

Second, everyone needs to be careful on the difference between opinion and hyperbole, which are protected, and the statement of a perceived fact that could be libelous. For example, if I wrote that Judy Nightly is a big, fat pig, the statement would clearly be protected as hyperbole. However, the statement that she is a greedy, lying thief who would stab her mother in the back for a nickel might imply that she has committed some crime and is possibly actionable. On another blog, someone wrote his opinion that one recruiter drank too much, but was otherwise a nice guy. This crosses the line.

Unfortunately, even stating the consensus opinion that a staff attorney is lazy or incompetent or even creepy may be enough to straddle this line without actual facts to back it up. However, we do need to be able to express the opinion that some staff attorneys on these projects are less mature or less experienced or less capable than some of the reviewers to whom they show absolutely no respect. Because some do answer all questions with “have you asked Helen yet?” and some do spend all their time on the internet or loudly talking on the phone about tile for the new home. Some of these staff attorneys have to appreciate the luck or timing that kept them from ending up as a reviewer. Whether or not these people are shitty in their outside lives, these people are shitty in the office and need to be called out for it.

To those staff attorneys or recruiters who get upset by being named in these blogs: Take a look at yourself. If no one likes you or trusts you, it is because you stand out for something you have done. If reviewers had someone to reasonably complain (without retribution) about your incompetence, ignorance, or disdain; they would not be posting anonymously about you in a blog.

The Black Sheep said...

To: 2:51 AM

I believe that tyler durden correctly understood the statement. I have known many paralegals and other administrative staff at large and small law firms, and I have the utmost respect for them. I have also seen some people serving in this capacity mistreated, and I have heard horror stories about talking to a senior partner about how an associate was treating them only to have that partner turn a deaf ear, or worse fire them. Many firms do not listen to administrative staff opinions any more then they listen to contract attorney opinions, and I think that this is wrong.

Anonymous said...

Don’t believe one optimistic word from any public figure about the economy or humanity in general. They are all part of the problem. Its like a game of Monopoly. In America, the richest 1% now hold 1/2 OF ALL UNITED STATES WEALTH. Unlike ‘lesser’ estimates, this includes all stocks, bonds, cash, and material assets held by America’s richest 1%. Even that filthy pig Oprah acknowledged that it was at about 50% in 2006. Naturally, she put her own ‘humanitarian’ spin on it. Calling attention to her own ‘good will’. WHAT A DISGUSTING HYPOCRITE SLOB. THE RICHEST 1% HAVE LITERALLY MADE WORLD PROSPERITY ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE. Don’t fall for any of their ‘humanitarian’ CRAP. ITS A SHAM. THESE PEOPLE ARE CAUSING THE SAME PROBLEMS THEY PRETEND TO CARE ABOUT. Ask any professor of economics. Money does not grow on trees. The government can’t just print up more on a whim. At any given time, there is a relative limit to the wealth within ANY economy of ANY size. So when too much wealth accumulates at the top, the middle class slip further into debt and the lower class further into poverty. A similar rule applies worldwide. The world’s richest 1% now own over 40% of ALL WORLD WEALTH. This is EVEN AFTER you account for all of this ‘good will’ ‘humanitarian’ BS from celebrities and executives. ITS A SHAM. As they get richer and richer, less wealth is left circulating beneath them. This is the single greatest underlying cause for the current US recession. The middle class can no longer afford to sustain their share of the economy. Their wealth has been gradually transfered to the richest 1%. One way or another, we suffer because of their incredible greed. We are talking about TRILLIONS of dollars. Transfered FROM US TO THEM. Over a period of about 27 years. Thats Reaganomics for you. The wealth does not ‘trickle down’ as we were told it would. It just accumulates at the top. Shrinking the middle class and expanding the lower class. Causing a domino effect of socio-economic problems. But the rich will never stop. They will never settle for a reasonable share of ANYTHING. They will do whatever it takes to get even richer. Leaving even less of the pie for the other 99% of us to share. At the same time, they throw back a few tax deductable crumbs and call themselves ‘humanitarians’. Cashing in on the PR and getting even richer the following year. IT CAN’T WORK THIS WAY. Their bogus efforts to make the world a better place can not possibly succeed. Any 'humanitarian' progress made in one area will be lost in another. EVERY SINGLE TIME. IT ABSOLUTELY CAN NOT WORK THIS WAY. This is going to end just like a game of Monopoly. The current US recession will drag on for years and lead into the worst US depression of all time. The richest 1% will live like royalty while the rest of us fight over jobs, food, and gasoline. Crime, poverty, and suicide will skyrocket. So don’t fall for all of this PR CRAP from Hollywood, Pro Sports, and Wall Street PIGS. ITS A SHAM. Remember: They are filthy rich EVEN AFTER their tax deductable contributions. Greedy pigs. Now, we are headed for the worst economic and cultural crisis of all time. SEND A “THANK YOU” NOTE TO YOUR FAVORITE MILLIONAIRE. ITS THEIR FAULT. I’m not discounting other factors like China, sub-prime, or gas prices. But all of those factors combined still pale in comparison to that HUGE transfer of wealth to the rich. Anyway, those other factors are all related and further aggrivated because of GREED. If it weren’t for the OBSCENE distribution of wealth within our country, there never would have been such a market for sub-prime to begin with. Which by the way, was another trick whipped up by greedy bankers and executives. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. The credit industry has been ENDORSED by people like Oprah, Ellen, Dr Phil, and many other celebrities. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. Now, there are commercial ties between nearly every industry and every public figure. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. So don’t fall for their ‘good will’ BS. ITS A LIE. If you fall for it, then you’re a fool. If you see any real difference between the moral character of a celebrity, politician, attorney, or executive, then you’re a fool. WAKE UP PEOPLE. ITS ALL ABOUT THE MONEY. The 1% club will always say or do whatever it takes to get as rich as possible. Without the slightest regard for anything or anyone but themselves. Reaganomics. Their idea. Loans from China. Their idea. NAFTA. Their idea. Outsourcing. Their idea. Sub-prime. Their idea. The commercial lobbyist. Their idea. The multi-million dollar lawsuit. Their idea. $200 cell phone bills. Their idea. $200 basketball shoes. Their idea. $30 late fees. Their idea. $30 NSF fees. Their idea. $20 DVDs. Their idea. Subliminal advertising. Their idea. Brainwash plots on TV. Their idea. Prozac, Zanex, Vioxx, and Celebrex. Their idea. The MASSIVE campaign to turn every American into a brainwashed, credit card, pharmaceutical, love-sick, couch potatoe, celebrity junkie. Their idea. All of the above shrink the middle class, concentrate the world’s wealth and resources, and wreak havok on society. All of which have been CREATED AND ENDORSED by celebrities, athletes, executives, entrepreneurs, attorneys, and politicians. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. So don’t fall for any of their ‘good will’ ‘humanitarian’ BS. ITS A SHAM. NOTHING BUT TAX DEDUCTABLE PR CRAP. Bottom line: The richest 1% will soon tank the largest economy in the world. It will be like nothing we’ve ever seen before. and thats just the beginning. Greed will eventually tank every major economy in the world. Causing millions to suffer and die. Oprah, Angelina, Brad, Bono, and Bill are not part of the solution. They are part of the problem. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A MULTI-MILLIONAIRE HUMANITARIAN. EXTREME WEALTH HAS MADE WORLD PROSPERITY ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE. WITHOUT WORLD PROSPERITY, THERE WILL NEVER BE WORLD PEACE OR ANYTHING EVEN CLOSE. GREED KILLS. IT WILL BE OUR DOWNFALL. Of course, the rich will throw a fit and call me a madman. Of course, their ignorant fans will do the same. You have to expect that. But I speak the truth. If you don’t believe me, then copy this entry and run it by any professor of economics or socio-economics. Then tell a friend. Call the local radio station. Re-post this entry or put it in your own words. Be one of the first to predict the worst economic and cultural crisis of all time and explain its cause. WE ARE IN BIG TROUBLE.

baa baa bob said...

of course opinion is not actionable as libel. and all that's been said is opinion. that e-mail you got is typical bullying bullshit written by precisely the sort of asshole who deserves to hear all the negative comments people have for him. and one can only hope that his career suffers for it, the shithead.

btw, 9:07 - take a deep breath. try to organize your thoughts a little better.

Anonymous said...

I wish I knew who was complaining. I don't think Kevin deserved some of the comments he received about his personal life. Simon, OTOH ...