The history of stupid runs long and deep. Decisions made, actions taken, wars started, Kardashians put on television; humanity’s capacity for total idiocy has been demonstrated time and time again. To quote Voltaire (which I of course do on a daily basis, along with George Carlin and Homer Simpson): “The only way to comprehend what mathematicians mean by Infinity is to contemplate the extent of human stupidity.”
No culture is immune from the influence and effect of stupid, and the same can be said of every profession, including, without a doubt, the law. No attorney is immune from making the occasional boneheaded move, whether it be a poor strategic decision on a case or singing “Highway to Hell” on the karaoke machine during a firm holiday party (though at the time I thought I did a helluva job). But some actions are so cosmically stupid that they in and of themselves make Voltaire’s point.
I give you Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission Matter No. 6274702. As recently reported in the ABA Journal and the Legal Profession Blog , last week the Illinois Supreme Court approved the ARDC Hearing Board’s recommendation that a lawyer be suspended for one year for a couple of egregious ethics violations, one of which involved his search for a secretary. As is not uncommon, he started his search for secretarial assistance on Craigslist. As is not common, he posted his ad in the “Adult Gigs” section of the site.
The title of the post was innocuous enough, “Loop lawyers hiring secretary/legal assistant,” as was most of the ad itself:
“Loop law firm looking to hire am [sic] energetic woman for their open secretary/legal assistant position. Duties will include general secretarial work, some paralegal work and additional duties for two lawyers in the firm. No experience required, training will be provided. Generous annual salary and benefits will be provided, including medical, dental, life, disability, 401(k) etc.”
The ad got a little funky after that, when in addition to a resume, the lawyer asked for “a few pictures along with a description of your physical features, including measurements.” Not exactly asking about typing skills or familiarity with e-filing. Right there, we can see the moment of stupid inception.
In these tough economic times, it is no surprise that the ad elicited a couple of inquiries, including from one candidate who found the ad odd no doubt but presumed that the lawyer was just looking for an attractive secretary. Well, yes he was. He responded with an e-mail in which he kindly elaborated on the “additional duties” referred to in his ad:
As this is posted in the “adult gigs” section, in addition to the legal work, you would be required to have sexual interaction with me and my partner, sometimes together sometimes separate. This part of the job would require sexy dressing and flirtatious interaction with me and my partner, as well as sexual interaction. You will have to be comfortable doing this with us.
He also discussed the interview process as well as past difficulties he had with his office staff:
“…we’ve decided that as part of the interview process you’ll be required to perform for us sexually (i didn’t do this before with the other girls i hired, now i think i have to because they couldn’t handle it). Because that aspect is an integral part of the job, I think it’s necessary to see if you can do that, because it’ll predict future behavior of you being able to handle it when you have the job.”
Notwithstanding the 401(k) and health benefits, the candidate unsurprisingly declined the opportunity to interview for the position and immediately contacted the ARDC. The Hearing Board easily concluded that the lawyer “used his position of authority in an employment context in an inappropriate manner, which reflects poorly on the legal profession. “
Clearly, stupid is but one word to describe the foregoing conduct, and takes a back seat to unethical, sexist, offensive, unprofessional, disgusting, and shameful in the hierarchy of things that are wrong with this picture. But whichever adjective one uses to describe this behavior that “reflects poorly on the legal profession” and whether or not one agrees with the sanction imposed, the fact that the attorney saw no problem with posting a want ad looking for, basically, a prostitute who could put together an Excel spreadsheet is pretty mind-boggling.
Often, issues of ethics and professionalism raise complicated questions, involve shades of grey, and require serious thought and contemplation to resolve. Sometimes, however, all it takes to figure out whether a given action or decision is the right one is to ask: “Is this stupid?” If the aforementioned attorney had just asked himself that simple question, he might still be practicing law and still require secretarial assistance. Instead, he is likely putting up a Craigslist post looking for someone who wants to sublet some office space.