I have a friend in the business who asked about how best to become a “badass motherfucker.” He uses this phrase whenever we get around to talking about his trial work in the ERISA area, and it’s now something he is aspiring to be. I don’t know why, but it appeals to him to have that tagline on his website and to rebrand himself successfully as the “badass motherfucker” of ERISA litigation.
While I understand the desire to be feared by other litigants, being a badass motherfucker at trial or in practice raises some red flags, particularly ethical red flags. While the model rules of professional conduct do not specifically address being a badass motherfucker attorney, here are some rules to consider before going through the effort of re-branding yourself as one mean hombre.
Model Rule 4.4
The most pertinent rule, it seems, is Model Rule 4.4, which provides in part:
In representing a client, a lawyer shall not use means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person, or use methods of obtaining evidence that violate the legal rights of such a person.
Rule 4.4. effectively gives the green light to be a badass motherfucker when not representing a client, but that would also be subject generally to other applicable rules. Importantly, though, you can still ethically be a badass motherfucker while representing a client, so long as you have some purpose other than embarrassing or burdening people or, apparently, delaying them developmentally in some way. While I cannot vouch that a keyword-based law firm marketing and rebranding effort is such a purpose, I don’t see why it couldn’t be. So, while Rule 4.4 may realistically apply to some badass behavior, it should be easy to work with it as a framework, especially with a good brand evangelista or consultant.
Model Rule 2.1
Model Rule 2.1 provides a clear green light to aspiring badass motherfuckers. The rule provides:
In representing a client, a lawyer shall exercise independent professional judgment and render candid advice. In rendering advice, a lawyer may refer not only to law but to other considerations such as moral, economic, social and political factors, that may be relevant to the client’s situation.
First, I’m not concerned about whether a badass motherfucker can effectively exercise independent professional judgment. That’s a given. Look at Vincent Gambini. Or Bruce Lee. Or even Wolverine. What’s encouraging by Rule 2.1, though, is how lawyers can consider other things when providing advice, such as moral, social, and political factors. For me, that means you can adopt a badass gestalt and use it to, say, walk into the courtroom wearing Brylcream and some brass knuckles. Hell, Rule 2.1 is practically an endorsement of being a badass motherfucker like that, so long as you don’t embarrass or delay anyone (see, again, Rule 4.4).
Other rules that may apply peripherally to being a badass motherfucker include Rule 3.4 (Fairness to Opposing Party and Counsel) or Rule 1.1 (Competence). And I could have missed some others, including rules on proper decorum. But I’m not here (yet) to dole out advice on how to be a badass motherfucker attorney. For that, you’ll need to develop your own skill sets, work with a branding consultant, and come up with a strategic, independent, and viable baddass motherfucker dynamic. That’s your job.
Finally, remember this: the last time I considered similar questions, the ethical rules concerning lawyers did not apply to activities on the internet. Accordingly, if it’s your desire to be a cloud-based badass motherfucker lawyer, you’ve got nothing standing in your way. Go for it, dude. It’s your domain.
Originally posted June 2011.