“I am a second year student at a top Chicago law school wondering if I should continue as I’ve heard some of our teachers insist that law is no longer a profession, but a business, and to succeed a lawyer must be ruthless, doing anything to win as long as what you are doing is technically legal.
“One said, ‘Right and wrong no longer matter. Disregard the immorality of what clients ask us to do, of what you need to do to prevail. Today law is only about winning and making money.’
“Another had a prescription for taking advantage of business clients involved in a lawsuit where the client’s position is unsound. ‘No matter how wrong, unreasonable or simply unethical, don’t even dream of educating a CEO about fairness or doing the right thing. That’s not your job and you should never be concerned with the morality of what you are doing. It may cost the company a fortune, but they pay, you play and it is how to become partner.’
“I replied, saying that being fair should be our goal, that right and wrong do matter, and that we have a duty to our communities to help solve problems and not encourage litigation.’ But I was laughed at, I was really laughed at, Mr. Beaver.
“Your column is a breath of fresh air because you urge the same things that I saw growing up in our small town where my dad was a lawyer who always preached fairness and seeking a just solution. He was seen as a respected professional.
“Is my experience here unique, or are law schools letting students down? This attitude really frightens me. Do experienced lawyers discuss these same issues? Thanks, Howard.”
Many law schools Fail to Teach Social Responsibility
The answer to Howard’s question, is yes, these questions–and what the legal profession has become–deeply worry attorneys like A. Marco Turk, Emeritus Professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills. He has written and lectured extensively on the subject.
“Right and wrong matters,” he insists. “Helping a client avoid paying a bill that is owed or the parent who refuses to pay child support get away with it is plain wrong! Lawyers have an obligation to exercise personal conscience and act in a moral way. Sadly, it seems that some law schools are not asking students to consider what their obligations in society will be when becoming members of the bar.
“From having both practiced and been a law professor for many years, it is clear to me that today, most law students feel that becoming a lawyer is simply a way to make a living. So is selling used cars. They need to be given the opportunity of looking at things like your reader has experienced growing up, where his father used his skills to help others, and not merely generate an income,” Professor Turk maintains.
It Wasn’t Always Like This – So, What Happened?
It is impossible to turn on the TV, surf the net, even drive to the supermarket without seeing ads, billboards, and signs on busses for lawyers claiming, “We’ll fight for you!” While lawyer advertising is considered as “normal” today, it wasn’t always like that.
“And that is a large part of the problem,” Turk points out. “Older Americans recall a time when lawyers were not permitted to advertise. But when it became legal in 1977, the practice of law went from being a respected and honored profession to merely a way of making a living for many attorneys. Combine this with an oversupply of lawyers and much has been lost.”
He’s right. At first attorneys were allowed to advertise in the The Yellow Pages – which was ‘Google’ before there was an internet or a Google. Studies conducted by the American Bar Association found a direct correlation to the massive increases in the number of students admitted to law school as lawyer advertising increased.
“The past several decades has seen an explosive growth in the numbers of lawyers across the country. The result has led to an abuse of the legal system with lawsuits filed on shaky grounds, if any and a lowering of professionalism. Sadly, law has become just a way to make a lot of money and most lawyers do not worry about the morality of what they are doing.
“It has become all about winning. The end justifies the means, so if we win, we’re right! We did our job and to hell with everything else! It doesn’t matter how we did it!
“But when we were a profession, we tried to do the right thing for our clients, our community, our country and ourselves. We did what was morally appropriate.”
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.