I wanted to write a post about the Rachel Canning suit yesterday. I couldn’t. The whole ordeal just left me dumbfounded.
It made no sense to me why Tanya Helfand, a family law attorney with over twenty years’ experience and apparently great marketing skills, wanted to bring a suit that potentially destroyed a family and elevated the wishes of an incredibly rebellious eighteen year old girl. I couldn’t understand why a former government official like John Inglesino would pay over $12,000 in attorney fees to see the Canning family destroyed when that money could have just as easily gone to Rachel Canning’s education. I couldn’t begin to understand why Rachel Canning, an honors student who’s received letters of acceptance to several universities and a $20,000 scholarship to one, would sue the parents with whom she no longer lives for money she never earned. Apparently this enterprising young woman is currently working at TGI Friday’s in addition to finishing out her Catholic school education, and working a traditional “third job” kids that age go through–applying to and getting acceptance at a university.
The entire debacle screams “entitlement nation” according to every parent who ever had to fight for what they earned, and for every adult who’s currently working while trying to pay off massive amounts of debt for the education they received. It shows what happens when we stop treating certain aspects of life–such as a college education–as a privilege, and start treating it, smart phones, private schools, and everything else the majority of today’s children get, as a “right.” It makes for sensational headlines because of the very nature of the story–it’s a grey area of the law, it’s a way to focus attention on just how “spoiled” and “entitled” today’s children are, and it features two very sympathetic “victims”–Rachel Canning’s parents (one of whom is a former law enforcement officer).
I couldn’t understand it, and the whole thing left me speechless as I tried to process the situation yesterday. So I did the one thing I could think of in an attempt to process the entire situation–I talked to my Dad. He’s a pretty bright guy, very well educated, and wise in the ways of the world. I usually go to him when I need to get a different perspective on a situation that has me clueless and speechless, and he’s always there to provide advice when needed. His take on this whole debacle left me thinking: what if this is all a marketing gimmick?
I’m not saying Tanya Helfand brought this suit to get herself in the national spotlight–lord knows, there are attorneys who believe in taking litigation for the name recognition it brings, but I’m not about to accuse Ms. Helfand of such a situation. I’m not saying John Inglesino, a former government official, would fund such a suit for the sake of getting himself in the public eye one more time. Maybe he really does have Rachel Canning’s best interests at heart. I’m not saying that Rachel Canning, an eighteen year old cheerleader and future biomedical engineer by all accounts, decided suing her parents was the best way to promote her personal “brand” and get national attention for her cause. Apparently she feels the money she makes from her TGI Friday’s job isn’t enough, and getting to live with her boyfriend’s family isn’t enough to get her to where she wants in life, and she obviously doesn’t want to follow her family’s rules–so maybe this is seriously the only way she feels she can get the money she needs while living life the way she chooses.
But consider this, dear readers–if you look at where most people got notice of this story, it was through a Buzzfeed article passed around social media. The story, gleaned largely from a New Jersey news website, is sensationally written with a headline that screams “click me.” By yesterday, afternoon, if you Googled “Rachel Canning,” you received numerous hits with Ms. Canning’s face and details of the suit at the top of the page. With one suit, for better or worse, we’re all talking about Rachel Canning. She may be “spoiled,” she may be a “brat,” she may be “rebellious” and a “bully,” but for the time being, Rachel Canning is in the national spotlight.
People talk about social media being used for “branding” all the time now. Numerous marketers, blogs, articles, and more exist trumpeting the value of “personal brands” and how to cultivate them through social media and web presence. I can’t help but meditate on the fact that Rachel Canning has used this lawsuit for her personal “brand” now. She’s surely gotten more Twitter followers, more Instagram followers, and more Facebook friends as a result of this suit. Some positive, some negative, but this lawsuit gives Rachel Canning’s “personal brand” national attention, and we have to deal with the consequences.
The infamous L. Ron Hubbard once said “The purpose of a lawsuit is to harass and discourage rather than win…The law can be used easily to harass, and enough harassment on somebody who is simply on the thin edge anyway, well knowing that he is not authorized, will generally be sufficient to cause professional decease.” I’m beginning to wonder if we need to change this statement to “harass, discourage and promote your view of the narrative, elevating your brand to the nation’s attention rather than win.” I don’t think Rachel Canning is going to win this suit; yesterday, a family court judge tossed the private school tuition portion of the lawsuit, remarking it would set a dangerous precedent where parents were placed in fear for establishing the rules of their house. A second hearing is set for April 22, and if cool heads prevail, the family will not be required to pay for Rachel Canning’s college tuition either. But maybe none of this is the point, because now, for better or for worse, we’re all talking about Rachel Canning.
This will not be lost on Ms. Canning or her future employers. She’s gotten her fifteen minutes of fame and an elevation of her “personal brand.” She is a celebrity, for good or ill now, and our attention to a spoiled child seeking attention in the national sense made her this way. Personal branding and marketing aside, I will say this: If this is the future of the law, and this is the way family litigation is headed–I will have no part in it. I will continue to take the cases I feel are worthy causes, and I will continue to take the cases necessary to better families, not destroy them. And I will have no part in the notion of corrupting family law or the family law bar for the sake of elevating one’s “personal brand.” I believe in justice, I believe in families, and I believe in doing what’s right. This suit reeks of none of these things.
Bravo, Rachel Canning. You’ve left a bad taste in everyone’s mouths while making national headlines for yourself. I hope you’re happy with the way things turn out, and I wish you all the best in your future endeavors. For now, I’m done talking about this. I need better things in my life.