Lawyer Daniel Muessig’s Clever, Effective, Legally Ethical And Thoroughly Despicable Ad

Just as I’ve been desperately trying to explain that lawyers do not represent bad people because they like them or want to loose them upon the world,  here comes innovative Pittsburgh lawyer Daniel Muessig, whose clever TV ad proclaims that this is exactly what he wants to do. Here it is:

Is this an ethical ad? According to the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct, it is within the conduct permitted by the state’s legal ethics rules. The ad isn’t misleading. It doesn’t make promises the lawyer cannot keep. It doesn’t represent dramatic recreations as fact, or use broad metaphors and exaggerations. (Lawyer ads are held to a standard of literalness that presumes the public has never see any other kinds of advertising in their entire lives.) Once upon a time the various state bar advertising regulations included prohibitions on “undignified” communications, or those that undermined public trust in the profession, but those days are long past: the standards were necessarily vague, and breached free speech principles.

So we have this: a lawyer who appeals to his future criminal clients by saying that he thinks like a criminal, believes laws are arbitrary, that other lawyers will “blow them off” and that he visits jails frequently because that’s where his friends are. He attacks his own colleagues and profession, denigrates the rule of law he is sworn to uphold, and seeks the trust of criminals not because of his duty as a professional, but because he’s just like them. Muessig is willing to undermine the law-abiding public’s belief in the justice system and the reputation of his profession and his colleagues in order to acquire clients. I’m sure his strategy will work, too.

I am bound to mention that there is a precedent for Muessig’s philosophy, and a distinguished one. Clarence Darrow, the greatest criminal lawyer of all, also believed, and stated in court, that the criminal laws were unjust and arbitrary.  He often referred to his murderous clients as his friends, too. Ethics, however, were never at the top of Darrow’s priorities.

Legal ethics and ethics are different creatures, and the ad is a fascinating example of this, because it rejects many of the core ethics of the legal profession without violating them, a neat and thoroughly despicable trick. The majority view in the legal ethics community seems to be that the ad is signature significance, and that thinking like a criminal will eventually result in a serious professional ethics breach. Whether it does or not, Muessig’s ad is irresponsible, and thus unethical. It is  compliant with the professional ethics rules, however.

And it is disgusting.


Pointer: Above the Law

13 thoughts on “Lawyer Daniel Muessig’s Clever, Effective, Legally Ethical And Thoroughly Despicable Ad

  1. OK, we’ve gone from Godwin’s Law to Poe’s (stating that for a sufficiently absurd position, you can’t tell a sincere believer from someone parodying a sincere believer). This is a joke, right? When he started listing crimes I thought he was headed for “Rape, Murder, Arson, and Rape.”

    On the other hand, “Keep your trap shut” is probably some of the most valuable general legal advice available.

      • I suppose “joke” was the wrong word, I figured he’s a real lawyer. It’s just that some of it (“Laws are arbitrary,” “I think like a criminal)” is unethical and kind of icky, but other stuff (“The country was founded on FREEDOM *eagle!* not on people with more money than you telling you what to do!) is so completely out of left field that it comes off as more like a stupid joke than a real appeal to lawlessness and acquital by means of legal shenanigans.

      • I guess that’s as good a way to describe it as any! One might just give this lowlife a tip of the hat for being honest about his own ethical “condition”. The odds are that he’ll be done in by one of his “friends”, Malcolm X style.

  2. Wowee.

    Pity about that typo in the chiron of the word “committed.”

    I actually thought the spot was kind of funny, in a twisted way (“Did I mention I’m Jewish?”). But I hear you on the ethical part.

  3. Here is an ironic twist. If jurors believe that he only represents guilty criminals after seeing this ad, is it not likely that jurors will convict his clients more frequently than if he had he portrayed his clients as saints?

    As such, does this ad create a negative bias among jurors against actual innocent clients he represents. Just asking?

  4. Muessig is willing to undermine the law-abiding public’s belief in the justice system and the reputation of his profession and his colleagues in order to acquire clients.

    With respect, that assumes that the law-abiding public has a belief that the legal system is a justice system. That assumption is rebuttable.

    It also assumes that the profession of criminal defendant lawyer has a reputation to defend.

    Having seen many transcripts of trials where incompetent or just plain overstretched public defenders let their clients down, and all too many where prosecutors were far more dishonest than any convicted criminal, then I think he could make a case on the balance of probabilities for “substantial truth” should he be accused of defaming the legal profession.

    Perhaps the situation is different in that jurisdiction. Perhaps he is being monstrously unjust.

    My honest opinion based on factual evidence is that the only way to avoid conviction in the US is not to get charged. Keep your head down. Don’t get the attention of a prosecutor or sheriff who wants to get someone, anyone, because it makes them look good.

    If through bad luck or being in the wrong place at the wrong time you get offered a plea deal of 2 years prison, or go to court for a possible 160, then this is exactly the kind of legal representation you’d need.

    Mere factual innocence is no defence, and may even be a disadvantage.

  5. Pingback: A Few Ways to Look Criminal Lawyers

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