Professional Discipline For Unethical Law School Deans?

Why not?

What the North Carolina Bar considers a trustworthy lawyer...

What the North Carolina Bar considers a trustworthy lawyer…

Law professor Ben Trachtenberg has caused a stir by suggesting in a law review article for the University of Missouri Law School Journal  that law school administrators responsible for intentional and egregious misrepresentations in advertising for their schools have violated the professional ethics codes and could, and should, face discipline, such as disbarment.

I don’t want to cause Nando a fatal cognitive dissonance attack, really I don’t, but I agree with the professor wholeheartedly. I have long believed that the Model Rules prohibition of dishonesty in Rule 8.4 should be applied to lawyer conduct not related to the practice of law more frequently and stringently than it is. Lawyers, for their own protection, are fond of the fictional Clinton myth that one can be an upright and trustworthy lawyer while displaying deceitful and dishonest conduct in their “personal lives,” as if lawyers are ethically schizophrenic. The proof: John Edwards still has his license.

The law school deans that Trachtenberg targets, however, don’t get the benefit of this pass. They are lawyers who were dishonest in their professional duties that, while not requiring a law license, have a clear impact on the legal profession.  Trachtenberg writes,

“In light of the common application of Rule 8.4(c) to lawyers who engage in dishonesty unconnected with the practice of law, there is little doubt that dishonest law school marketing conducted by members of the bar justifies professional discipline. Paul Pless lied repeatedly, over a period of years, about the quality of incoming students at the University of Illinois College of Law, deceiving the ABA and U.S. News, along with prospective students and others who relied on statistics they compiled.191 Mark Sargent conspired with colleagues to engage in similar conduct at Villanova.192 Can anyone dispute that these men engaged in “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation”? Surely serial dishonesty—committed with the purpose of gaming the rankings used by prospective students deciding whether and where to spend tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars—is at least as serious a violation as falsifying a resume and transcript.”

Sure it is. As with Edwards, however, the profession is unlikely to be willing to expand the range of activities by lawyers outside of actual practice that will trigger discipline. Continue reading