Kevin speaking with Megan Zavieh, Legal Ethics & Defense Attorney at Zevieh Law, at the 2019 Clio Cloud Conference in San Diego. Megan represents others lawyers before the California State Bar who are facing ethic inquiries, and also runs a legal podcast called Lawyers Gone Ethical.
Kevin O’Keefe: Who am I talking with?
Megan Zavieh: Hi Kevin. I’m Megan Zavieh.
Kevin: Okay. Well you knew my name. That’s pretty good.
Megan: I do, I do know your name.
Kevin: And where are you from?
Megan: Well live in Atlanta, Georgia.
Kevin: Okay, well, that’s what I was asking. And what do you do?
Megan: I represent other lawyers before the California State Bar who are facing ethics inquiries.
Kevin: Really? So how did we get to talk to you?
Megan: I mean, did you do something wrong?
Kevin: No, I mean, it wasn’t even that. Are you speaking here?
Megan: Um, I was podcasting here. I have a podcast, “Lawyers Gone Ethical” and I’ve been recording with all kinds of very cool Clio people.
Kevin: How long have you been doing a podcast?
Megan: We’re approaching a hundred episodes, so almost two years.
Kevin: Good for you. Is that your idea and your brain child?
Megan: Sort of and Nicole Abboud’s.
Kevin: So when you say, “we”?
Megan: Well, I have some help. So I like to give them credit, especially. I have a wonderful assistant Lee Duckworth who helps make this happen. And Nicole Abboud helped get it off the ground originally.
Kevin: Okay, but it was your impetus to say, “okay, I’m going to do this”.
Megan: Yeah. It was like, ”Oh, nobody’s doing an ethics podcast. You know, we probably should think about doing one”.
Kevin: (1:07) And who are the type of people that you bring on?
Megan: A lot of solo lawyers who are just doing cool things with law. Um, like building out new subscription services or like Hello Divorce. You know, things that are just a little different and innovative and we talk about how, “Hey, that’s actually okay, there’s not an ethics problem with this”.
Kevin: Well, what got you interested in doing something like that? Where, I mean, you really, it’s not like you’re saying, “okay, I want to go get ethics layers on that are in other States or different types of issues or whatever. You know, people that sit on, you know, boards for hearings with ethics brought up for hearings or whatever”. You’re not doing that. It’s totally
Megan: Yeah, not much of that. Not so often an ethics colleague.
Kevin: No, but you’re basically saying, “I want to go talk to people that are doing interesting things”. I mean, why? I mean it’s a good idea. I’m not questioning it, but I’m like, why you, who all of a sudden said, “I’d like to do that”.
Megan: (2:03) Well, partly it’s because when I got into ethics defense work, I found that lawyers throw up the ethics rules as a barrier to doing cool new stuff. You know, they’re like, “Oh this, I had this idea, but then I realized of course I can’t do that”. Why not? And they’re like, “well I don’t think the ethics rules is permit it”. I’m like, “which one? Like drill down on this. How in the world are you prevented?”. And like we use them to hold ourselves back a lot and the profession is changing, we’re evolving. The people who are going to really make a killing and help a lot more people, a lot more clients, are the ones that are going to innovate. And I like to kind of open the doors for people and help them see that there’s not actually an ethics reason not to do something new and different. And so when you have an idea, go with it and run with it. Figure out how you can make it happen.
Kevin: So what would you have told some guy in rural Wisconsin that’s trying to figure out whether you can use the internet to connect with people. He knows nothing about the internet, but knows that if you go to Barnes and Noble and you get a floppy disk, you can put it in the side of your machine. Although, that I had to find out. And then I had to find out that you had to take your telephone off the hook in the kitchen of the a hundred year old house, plug it in the side and “I think you dial the phone number?”. I don’t remember what we did.
Megan: You did back then.
Kevin: Maybe the screen came up and you push the button and it clicked. You know that there were thousands and thousands of people asking legal questions on six company sets of message boards. What if somebody came to you and said, and this was me
Megan: (3:35) I gathered that.
Kevin: and I’d ask, “Can I answer these questions? They’re all over the country, all over different States. Um, there’s gonna be no conflict yet cause we don’t know any of their names. We don’t know whether they’re representative by a lawyer or not, but we’re going to answer. I’m going to answer their questions when I have time, maybe five or seven a day”. What could you imagine if someone in your shoes or the state ethics hotline, if I would’ve called them in 1996 saying.
Megan: Oh they would have actually absolutely lost it. You know that you can’t give advice across state lines. You don’t know who you’re talking to. You haven’t run your conflicts as you mentioned, you know, you can’t give legal advice without diving into a case and knowing all the facts. I mean, there was a time that just would have been so taboo. That’s a little later than when I was in a computer science class before I ever went to law school and it was like computer science 101 and the professor asked me why I was taking the class and I said, “I want to move to Alaska”, where I’ve never been still to this day, because that time I wanted to move there anyways.
Kevin: Where were you living then?
Megan: California, southern California. And he goes, “okay, what does that have to deal with here?”. And I said, “well, I want to telecommute”. And he said, and this has to be like 1992 and he said, “that’s not a thing that’s never going to be a thing”. And I said, “I think it is”. He like, “it’s not right”. You know, I’m like, “well, I’m going to stay in your class anyway”. And of course I didn’t go into computer science and I became a lawyer, but now look where we are. So similar thing. And I could see it in 1996. Yeah, completely taboo. “This is craziness”.
Kevin: (5:05) You had to just plow ahead, you know, because my thought was “if I get in trouble for this, then I don’t need to be in the law”. Because all of these people are helping each other in many cases better than any lawyer would because they and their family have been through the situation more than any lawyer. They’ve lost a child with medical negligence. They know how to pick the good lawyers. They know what expert witnesses are. I mean, they knew this, many of them, but there weren’t any lawyers helping them, because lawyers don’t go out where people are and try to help them.
Megan: They still don’t always do that.
Kevin: Short disclaimer, just said, “Hey, this is legal information, general information for me to see a lawyer state”. Will Hornsby said, “You know, Kevin”, that years later “ that ain’t going to fly”. And then when he went through our site where the listserv was, he said, “you know, if this is advertising? This could be construed as advertising in your state, then it’s not”. The was the best disclaimer I could come up with at that time. Um, it’s a great idea though, what you’re saying to bring on these people that are doing cool stuff and “it’s okay”. I’m assuming in many cases it benefits lawyers.
Megan: (6:22) Absolutely.
Kevin: So it’s not taking things away from them. It’s enhancing how they serve clients and enhancing their life.
Megan: Yeah. And part of what I like to highlight for people is that when you build a practice that’s doing something, you’re not just passionate, it is an important concept, but I think it is a little overused, but something you’re excited to do and that you want to get up in the morning and be part of and this is something you’re growing, you’re better at it then doing something really boring and you start to design a life that works with your work because it’s not really a work life balance. Like there’s a blend today. There’s no such thing as like leaving work behind. So if you can build a practice you love that fits in your actual life, that’s a really good thing. And that’s very far from the white shoe law firm, put on my suit every morning, you know, punched a clock, missed all the family events. It’s a very different life.
Kevin: So you’re working with Sasha here to get set up? That’s great. So you’ve got this podcast, you invent your own radio station, because you do know.
Megan: That’s what it is.
Kevin: At dinner with Doc Surlies, incredible what he’s done with the blogging and whatnot and the former DJ in California. He lives in Santa Barbara part time and part time in New York. And we were talking about, he goes, “there’s going to be no radio”. I said, “really?”. He said, “There will be no AM or FM radio. It will be just shows on demand”. Your show will just be another show and they’ll probably be algorithms that tell me what I want to see when it’s available. Um, based on what I’ve seen before, what I’ve listened to before or seen before, who the guests are that you have and what I do like to see it. It’s cool what you’re doing from an ethics thing standpoint. Um, what do you most enjoy about it?
Megan: (7:57) It’s really fun just to talk to people who I wouldn’t otherwise probably have like this meaningful of a conversation with. I mean, there’s plenty of people who’ve been gassed that I know from outside. Like, I’ve already had dinner with them or attended a conference with them or whatever. But then it doesn’t mean that we necessarily are going to sit there and like dive into “Let’s talk about the ethics of what you do”, right? I mean that’s not necessarily dinner time conversation. So that’s part of it. And just getting to know people that I wouldn’t have otherwise have the opportunity. And then at conferences like this, I actually like get really excited that people have come up.
Kevin: They know you.
Megan: And that they’ve listened to an episode. Like I actually had someone come to me and say, you know, and I didn’t know her from before and she said, “I just want to let you know I needed to research an issue and I found your podcast on this topic and it was incredibly helpful”. And I’m like “Yes, I made a difference”. Sometimes some of my episodes are solo. I do guest episodes and also solo episodes where I just talk about a particular issue. I laugh because I’m sitting here like, “I’m sitting here talking to myself, maybe somebody’s out there that they’re going to listen to it”. So like that episode that she came and said was helpful, it was a solo episode. I’m like, “I was just sittin’ there talking to myself and it made a difference to somebody”. So that’s incredibly rewarding and encourages me to keep doing it.
Kevin: Are you in a firm or are you working for a company or insurance company?
Megan: I’m solo. Totally solo.
Kevin: And all your work is defense ethics?
Kevin: Your clients are insurance companies and firms or?
Megan: Just California lawyers, mostly solos.
Kevin: Just California lawyers, interesting.
Megan: Yeah. So I don’t do malpractice defense. I do the ethics side. So these are all state bar inquiries. So every so often insurance kicks in because malpractice insurance does often have a component for ethics coverage, but a lot of lawyers don’t want to access it. Cause sometimes when it comes to the ethics part really does not have a malpractice component. You can have violated the ethics rules without committing malpractice. And so to avoid kicking in their insurance and having insurance problems, they sometimes just bundle it together.
Kevin: (9:56) What do other think about what you’re doing? Do they think it’s wacky or “what are you doing?”?
Megan: I have kind of a split. So more traditional old school lawyers will flat out tell me I’m crazy with some of what I’m doing. Particularly in the ethics defense world, I didn’t really realize when I first got into it that defending the ethics part of the complaints and advising lawyers on how to proceed ethically are two different things. And a lot of my colleagues don’t advise lawyers on how to proceed in their businesses. To me they just go hand in hand. So, some of my colleagues who don’t do the advice, think I’m nuts to do it. Others think I’m insane to think that the profession is evolving and that we don’t need to actually adopt different models. Um, but then I have mostly in the more innovative space, the lawyers love what I’m doing and I appreciate having a sounding board that, you know, I actually like dig into the ethics rules and geek out on them. I’m like, “I’m glad someone does”.
Kevin: Well you must, I assume you must get legal tech companies that talked to you about, you know, “should we do this?” or “how would we set it up?”?
Megan: I have definitely been consulted by tech companies. Um, the individual lawyers are the much more fun ones in my opinion. Um, the tech companies definitely are important players and they will have ethics questions because when they build something, they’re not subject to our regulation. But everybody that’s going to be impacted by what they’re doing will be and they don’t want to build a product that’s going to get their customers in trouble.
Kevin: Interesting, because the lawyers got it all on the line.
Kevin: I mean so it’s a big deal.
Megan: Cause the companies are not regulated directly. Yeah. I found when you told the ethics people to take a hike, they got upset. I remember that, you know, in law school sitting there thinking scared out of my mind, but realizing, “okay, what you really need to do in, no matter what it is, you just do whatever the ethics body said”. You just respond and do whatever.
Megan: (11:54) And I’ve had clients say to me like, “I will do whatever you tell me”.
Kevin: I mean the plaintiffs stuff was if you didn’t get an adequate board, people would file a grievance and then people started using the political. So, if you got involved in political issues and then the opposing side would have multiple people start filing grievances against you for fraud or something you said in the media and you get these stacks.
Megan: I’ve seen it happen.
Kevin: I really dislike that portion of the handling of the facts. Where people were using ethics grievances as an arrow. It was being, there was lawyers that were telling them how to do it. They were obviously they weren’t lawyers filing the grievances, but you can see who was coaching this thing behind the scenes to try to show you how getting involved with social issues. I go, “this is really sleazy deal”. How’d you get involved in this? Other than the podcast, how’d you decide to do ethics? Not everybody says, “I want to grow up to go into law school”. “What are you gonna do?”. “I’m going to do ethics work on behalf of lawyers.”
Megan: (12:53) No, that’s probably part of why my defense bar is like me and there’s another guy around my age and then we’re up to another like a 50 year old and everybody else is another couple of decades older. It feels like, um, no, it’s definitely not something you say like, “Hey, when I grow up, I want to be an ethics lawyer”. I actually came out of law school intending on going to medical school and become a psychiatrist, treating lawyers. That was my original goal. And I for went medical school to go to a clerkship and a big law firm, the debt and wanting to start a family and various factors.
Kevin: So did you go to medical school?
Megan: I did not go to medical school. I had everything ready. I took the MCAT, I did all my premeds during my clerkship and I was ready to go. And then decided, well, I’m going to hold off and hold off and then didn’t. I was instead a big law securities lawyer, securities litigation defense. And I did that for about eight years after my clerkship. And then I moved back to California and I was finally free of the confines of big law. You know where people ask you for help and you’re like, “Oh no, I’m not allowed to help”.
Kevin: Where were you in big law?
Megan: Um, I was at Schulte Roth & Zabel than what is now K & L Gates and then Deckert in New York and New Jersey. And so you’re on big law, somebody asks you for help, you’re supposed to say, “Oh I’m not allowed to help you because I worked for this big law firm and I can’t, you know, do anything that’s not for a client”.
Kevin: I mean that is a big difference between, “Okay. I’m going to medical school so I can help lawyers, but I decided no, I’m going to do litigation for a huge law firm in Manhattan”.
Megan: (14:21) Can you see that one was in alignment with all my values and the other is really not.
Kevin: Wasn’t a common thread.
Megan: It was really not, right. And so I ended up, I had been asked to help on a bar defense case when I was in big law. I couldn’t help them out, right. Cause I’m stuck in big law. I’m not allowed to help you. When I got out of big law, I was like, “Oh, I can jump in and help”. So I did. And then I spent some time in this State Bar Court cause California has a separate court just for attorney discipline and I was in the court and seeing the process and seeing some lawyers just lost, absolutely lost representing themselves, not having a clue about this process and the system cause it’s not like every other court and all these things.
Kevin: “I can help them”.
Megan: (14:54) Yeah, and I was like “I could do this. Like Oh my gosh, I could do this”.
Kevin: There are so many issues. I mean like different issues, mental health issues, financial issues, all of these things. Most people don’t go out of their way to say, “I’m going to do something unethical”. It arrives.
Megan: Right. Yeah, something happens.
Kevin: You get mad. It’s not a good thing to represent yourself. It’s fascinating though to do the podcast all the way to that. What’s been the hardest thing to that podcast?
Megan: At times, coming up with new things to talk about where I’m like, “haven’t I beaten every dead horse” and I don’t have something new and as soon as that happens that I feel like the well has run dry, something comes into my universe. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, something new or some new topic”. Because it really is constantly changing and evolving and people are constantly coming into the profession with new ideas. And so it doesn’t ever really run dry, but it feels like it does sometimes. And then I find that if I just kind of let go a little bit and relax, I will find something.
Kevin: What would you tell somebody that’s gonna do a podcast, a lawyer?
Megan: (15:57) To plan ahead a little bit. Um, that has made it a much less stressful process because I do it weekly and that can get overwhelming cause sometimes a week goes by, I’m like, “What?”. I write monthly for some publications and a month goes by really fast, I imagine a week does. Um, but as long as I’m on top of it and I keep planning, um, that is probably my biggest piece of advice. And then the other being just like, let go a little bit. Like if you miss an episode, it’s okay. You know, there was a time when I was like, “No, no, no, I can’t”.
Kevin: It’s not like Monday Night Football didn’t play this week.
Megan: Exactly. And then I have the Heidi debacle, right. No, It’s going to be okay. Yes, people might be expecting it or maybe they’re not, and if it shows up in their feed or not, it’s okay. Um, but have fun with it. You know, podcasting is really fun.
Kevin: Overall, it’s made your life, as a lawyer, more rewarding.
Megan: Oh, absolutely. I’m, you know, and there have been times where, especially my family will be like, “are you sure you wanna keep doing this?”, when I’m yelling at them all to be quiet.
Kevin: Mom’s on her podcast.
Megan: You know, yeah, exactly. I tried to put them in when no ones there, but every so often it happens. And like, I remember explaining at one point to my husband and he goes, “so what do you get out of this?”. And I’m like, “honestly, like, it’s incredibly rewarding”.
Kevin: Megan: “Better than talking to myself”.
Megan: Especially better than talking to myself.
Kevin: I know some people that actually, I can imagine my wife saying, “and their listening to you?”.
Megan: Yes. Oh yeah. I get a little bit of blow back for that, but it’s all in good fun.
Kevin: Thank you very much. I enjoyed it.
Megan: Thank you for having me.
Kevin: You bet.