Taking stock of ethics from a long and eventful Monday…
1. As of yesterday, Ethics Alarms is about to complete its most successful month ever in terms of traffic and new followers, beating last August by almost 2000 visitors a day. Thanks to everyone who participated. Thanks especially to the untrustworthy folks at Snopes, whose partisan manipulations and the Ethics Alarms exposure of them fueled the single most read Ethics Alarms post in any month, unseating the previous champion, this, which was a trivial post that the Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds, deemed the only Ethics Alarms story worth linking to.
2. Yesterday, I was a guest at a large and combative gathering of personal injury lawyers to work out a dispute involving lots of money, and when the time came for me to speak, I was hooted down and had it made quite clear to me that the majority of participants had no interest in legal ethics whatsoever.
3. They made it clear that they didn’t know much about ethics either. For example, at one point a lawyer threatened to sue another lawyer for representations made on behalf of a client that the first lawyer felt impugned his character. Lawyers are immune from such suits. To the extent that the lawyer was trying to use a bogus threat to intimidate the other lawyer into representing his client with less zeal, that tactic is unethical, but still not forbidden by the legal ethics rules….because lawyers use the threat to sue all the time.
Just like Donald Trump.
4. Another example: one issue was whether a lawyer had accepted an unethical fee division. He protested that he had directed that his share of the controversial fee to be given instead to a worthy organization. That doesn’t matter, though: it’s unethical for lawyers to split fees with non-lawyers, including worthy organizations. And if a lawyer accepts an improper fee split, it doesn’t matter how deserving the charity is that he passes the money on to. The ethics rule was breached the minute he got the money, and what he does with it afterward can’t fix it.
5. When I did get a chance to speak to the group briefly, I was challenged by several of the lawyers who asked whom I represented. I explained that I was there as a consultant on ethics, to which one replied, “Then you’re an advocate, right?”
My response: “No, that’s not right. I’m not an advocate, except for ethical conduct. I would say exactly the same thing no matter who hired me. I am here to assess what is ethical conduct objectively, not to slant my judgment according to who is paying me.”
The reaction to this statement, meeting room-wide, was…
There was some barking, too.