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The “Front Page” Rule

“Listen. Always Remember. Anything you do, write or say could wind up on the front page of ‘The New York Post’.” I vividly recall that warning, issued to me as part of my orientation to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, when I started there fresh out of law school. I have tried to heed the advice ever since.

This nugget came to mind shortly after New Year’s when I read about the firestorm that erupted after a senior attorney at a Cleveland law firm sent an insensitive email to a departing associate. You may recall that the senior attorney chastised the associate for using her maternity leave to sit on her keister – as the ABA Journal gently rephrased it – and to find a new gig. After the message became public, the senior attorney wound up seeking new employment as well.

I am reminded of that warning again as the press and concerned citizens seek answers from an elected official who walked away from a holiday season hit-and-run. Like elected officials, lawyers have an obligation to act in a way that will make those who hold them in esteem proud.

Opportunities to embarrass oneself in public have grown exponentially since I became an attorney. Our reliance on digital communication and the fact that everyone has a video camera in their pockets mean that we are constantly creating a virtual record of our lives.

A couple of corollaries to the “Front Page Rule” then: Anytime you write anything – in an email or a text, anywhere – assume it could go viral. Anytime you say or do anything, know that it could wind up recorded and rebroadcast on a news program or even worse – on YouTube.

Check yourself before you act and ask: Would my partners or colleagues be proud or embarrassed by what I’m about to do? How about my children or neighbors? Odds are they are surfing the web, too.