The Difference Between Legal Ethics and Ethics: A Son Takes Sides

“You’re doing WHAT???????”

Nevada lawyer Mark Liapis decided to represent a man sued for divorce by his longtime spouse. The spouse petitioned the court to have him barred from the case, and the court agreed: Mark was, after all, representing his father against his own mother.

Ick.

Marie Liapis argued that he son had an inherent conflict of interest because of split loyalties, and that she had shared confidences with him that he should be barred from using against her. She also argued that he might benefit personally from the divorce, since he was a likely beneficiary of any estate. The court of appeals reversed the lower court, saying that no legal ethics rules made this unusual representation inappropriate. [You can read the opinion here.] If she shared confidences with her son that were relevant to the divorce, she didn’t do so as a client, so the legal ethics requirement that a lawyer must not use confidences against a former client doesn’t apply. According to the law, Mark has no property at stake as a potential beneficiary, so that doesn’t constitute a conflict of interest. The rules leave it up to Mark and his father whether his loyalty to Mom will stop him from giving zealous representation: Mark obviously doesn’t think it will, and his father trusts him. Yes, this looks bad, but the American Bar Association got rid of its “appearance of impropriety” prohibition long ago. Is there any actual impropriety? Not in the framework of lawyer duties and obligations.

In short, Mark’s representation is 100% ethical according to the ethics rules of the profession, which are only concerned with lawyers fairly and honestly representing their clients, not whether doing so hurts someone else’s feelings, or whether it represents a deep family betrayal.

Is it ethical, though?

Of course not.

________________________________

Pointer: ABA Journal

Facts: Las Vegas Review-Journal

Graphic: SiteWWW

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.

14 thoughts on “The Difference Between Legal Ethics and Ethics: A Son Takes Sides

  1. Pingback: The Difference Between Legal Ethics and Ethics: A Son Takes Sides … « Ethics Find

    • It’s obviously unethical because it is a needless breach of familial loyalty. A mother is a mother, she raised him, and unless she did some tangible harm to him sufficient to justify his treating her as an adversary, for him to formally not merely side with his father but apply his professional skills against her is cruel and unfair. There are many, many lawyers who could do a competent job in the divorce representation. If the son was interested in being fair to both parents, he could mediate an amicable settlement. This is throwing gasoline on a fire, and probably guarantees a permanent family breach. Like doctors, lawyers shouldn’t cause unnecessary harm either. Especially to their mothers.

      • So, the alternative is that the son stands by his father’s side and they pay a small fortune to a non-family member lawyer who simply regurgitates the arguments the son still creates as a witness and supporter of the father? Barring him from practicing in this case won’t affect his involvement in this case.

        Whether he has a familial duty to his mother is irrelevant. It’s for him to decide who to take sides with, or if he should at all. Obviously, he’s decide 1) that he should take sides, 2) that he should side with his father. In his mind, based on the very intimate information he has, he’s decided this is the ethical thing to do and the appeals court has decided that it’s legal too.

        I simply can’t be on board with your assessment unless you can show me why his taking sides in his parent’s divorce proceedings was “unethical”.

        • Taking sides is fine. To represent his father as a lawyer, however, requires the son to be willing to destroy his mother, and have absolutely no concern, love or interest in her at all. That’s the lawyer’s obligation. That is not proper conduct for a son.

          I think taking that stance against either parent is just disloyal, ungrateful, and wrong—unless the parent has done something so heinous that it justifies essentially abandoning all ties to the parent. In the absence of any information suggesting this, I have to conclude that his conduct is unethical.

          • “unless the parent has done something so heinous that it justifies essentially abandoning all ties to the parent.”

            If it reached that level could he really be expected to act ethically as Lawyer, would he not have a personal stake in the matter to cause harm to his mother. I don’t see how he could represent either parent ethically.

          • To represent his father as a lawyer, however, requires the son to be willing to destroy his mother, and have absolutely no concern, love or interest in her at all.

            If he’s willing to do that, then he’s fit as a lawyer. If he’s not willing to do that, his client needs to approve of the conflict for him to continue, which the client has.

            “….and that she had shared confidences with him that he should be barred from using against her.” -from post

            unless the parent has done something so heinous that it justifies essentially abandoning all ties to the parent. In the absence of any information suggesting this, I have to conclude that his conduct is unethical. -from comment

            I don’t think there’s an absence of information suggesting this…it’s right there in your post. I don’t think you have to deem it ethical, just that it can’t bee deemed unethical. It’s ethically inert.

            • Still don’t get you. I concede that it’s legally ethical…that was the point of the post. Without a showing that the mother did something of sufficient magnitude to cancel out the duty of gratitude a son has for her bearing him, birthing him and raising him, then the presumption has to be that this unnecessary representation is unfair, disloyal, hateful, cruel and ungrateful. Unethical.

              If he’s trying to save Dad’s money, he can chip in.

              • But there you go with the presumptions. 1) That unleashing a stranger on your mother is somehow more ethical than standing up and being the bad guy. 2) That he’s going to use his position to inflict undo harm and take unfair advantage because he hates her.

                I don’t understand either of those positions based on the available information.

                • Huh?
                  1. Unleashing a stranger? All lawyers are supposed to use the same degree of zeal. If he is taking the job to make sure the lawyer goes easy on his mother, then he is legally unethical.
                  2. I didn’t say he’s using his position to inflict undue harm. There is harm to be inflicted by any lawyer—it’s unethical for him to choose to be the lawyer who inflicts it, when the target is his own mother.
                  3. What presumptions?

  2. Let me try to drill this down to a finer point, if I may…respectfully….

    Without a showing that the mother did something of sufficient magnitude to cancel out the duty of gratitude a son has for her bearing him, birthing him and raising him, then the presumption has to be that this unnecessary representation is unfair, disloyal, hateful, cruel and ungrateful. Unethical.

    Your descriptions in bold were attributed to the underlined “unnecessary representation”. If he were simply a witness or advocate, the same descriptions would still apply, yes? Therefore, I posit that your descriptions in bold are more appropriately directed at him “picking sides” than his representation of his father.

    If that’s true, he’s already earned your disapproval by picking sides, how does providing representation further compound the situation, ethically speaking?

    • Because being a legal advocate goes far, far beyond “picking sides”, and goes to active combat, with total fealty to one side and one side only.

      As to being a witness in a legal proceeding, that’s an obligation of citizenship. There is no equivalent obligation to take the role of a hired gunslinger against your own mother. There is a filial duty NOT to.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.