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