The practice of law is rarely ever about originality or novelty. Instead, the bulk of your work may be retreading your old work (or someone else's work). But while it is oh-so-easy to cut and paste, lawyers should obviously be very careful when doing so.
A solo practitioner in New York was recently sued by a client for copyright infringement after the lawyer allegedly lifted parts of the client's complaint in an amended complaint that did not involve that client.
While a judge tossed the lawsuit, the fact that the lawyer was sued by the client brings up an interesting issue of a lawyer's liability for cutting and pasting.
1. Copyright Violations. It's a bit strange to think of a lawyer being sued by a client for copyright violations. And this is the first we've heard of such a claim. But the client in New York was apparently unhappy that his complaint was used in a related matter that did not involve him. However, a court ruled that the lawyer was not liable because he had an implied license to use the client's complaint.
This case is unique and it's unclear how a court would have ruled if the allegedly copyrighted material was used in a wholly different matter.
2. Privacy. If you copy and paste wholesale legal arguments from one case to a similar case, you run the risk of disclosing a client's confidential information. You may inadvertently paste private facts about a client or simply used the wrong client's name. Double check what you paste and make sure that no identifying material is included.
3. Wrong Legal Analysis. No matter how similar two cases may seem, there will always be little factual differences. So if you copy and paste arguments from two different divorce proceedings, make sure that what you copy is relevant and accurate. You will likely need to make tweaks to the arguments to fit your specific situation.
- Is it Ever Wise to Sue Your Client for Defamation? (FindLaw's Strategist)
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- Do Your Clients Think You're Incompetent? (FindLaw's Strategist)