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Lawyers' Ethics

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Congratulations to Erin Hogan for sticking to her guns through her Kafka-esque experience in the American legal system, a world of incompetence, dishonesty, disrespect, and an overarching belief that legal advocacy is a war game. The fact that the word "intimidation" is apparently considered a legitimate courtroom tactic speaks volumes about the disintegration of a system that is, ideally, about fair punishment and rehabilitation. It sucks that a victim cannot press charges without being manipulated and intimidated by defense attorneys, chewed out by judges, ignored by the supposed advocates of the state's interest, and made to feel guilty and foolish for pursuing her case.

But there is something greater at stake.

George Anastaplo, lecturer in the liberal arts at the University of Chicago and professor at Loyola Law School, where I am a student, asked last June at a lecture in Rome if justice is really served when perpetrators are expected to evade facing up to the harm they've done. We are used to addressing the implications of this behavior for society and for victims, but Anastaplo focuses on the defendants, asking questions most lawyers consider irrelevant: "What should be indicated to them by us about how they should act? What duty, if any, do they have to their community and to humanity generally? What is truly in the defendant's interest?"

Then there is the question of lawyers--what are they (we?) expected to do for clients? The standard within the profession seems to be that attorneys--or at least "good" attorneys--are those who are willing to leave their personal ethics at home when they leave for the law office. In June, I was shocked to hear a law professor of mine quoted in Chicago Lawyer, calling Philip Corboy's decision to cease representing State Senator Raica in a personal injury lawsuit "out of character with his normal professionalism." Corboy withdrew as Raica's counsel after Raica voted to cap tort damages in Illinois (Raica's suit, filed before the change in the law, would be unaffected by the damages cap). Apparently, accepting hypocrisy (dishonesty) on the part of one's client is part of the "professionalism" this man was referring to. Is it fair to treat lawyers as no more than mouths for hire? Excepting prostitution, I can think of no other profession where clients expect such a thing. And I can think of no profession--prostitution included--where clients should expect such a thing. We should all be provided the dignity of setting our limits and knowing how far we will or will not go for a client.

Since starting law school, I have found myself repeatedly appalled by the way Americans have chosen to pursue justice. Erin Hogan's piece was just one more reminder of that. The mantra that we "don't need any more lawyers in this country" is a half-truth. There is a very pressing need for a certain type of lawyer--those who understand that they are not required to bend to a client's every whim, that "intimidation" is not an acceptable trial strategy, that the law is not a grown-up version of a fantasy role-playing game, and that a guilty man is not necessarily "best served" by being allowed to evade responsibility for his acts.

Elana Seifert

N. Honore

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