This is a major development with narrow implications in the field of legal ethics, but potentially wide-ranging importance in the society as a whole.
We are just now learning—after all, you wouldn’t expect the news media to report this kind of sinister, reverse-racism bullying, would you?—that the general counsel of Coca Cola issued an open letter to the law firms representing it. [Full disclosure: I have taught legal ethics seminars for one of them] The letter decreed that these firms “commit that at least 30% of each of billed associate and partner time will be from diverse attorneys, and of such amounts at least half will be from Black attorneys.” You can read the letter here. Here are the edicts:
One of the many benefits of the Trump Administration and the concomitant 2016 Post-Election Ethics Train Wreck, one theory goes, is that it has exposed the ethical rot and lack of integrity of so many previously admired and trusted professions.
Among those that have thoroughly disgraced themselves in their rush to enamor themselves before their progressive, President Trump- loathing colleagues and friends—you know, the good people—have been journalists (of course), academics, psychiatrists, doctors, epidemiologists, ethicists, historians, teachers, judges and lawyers. Thus it shouldn’t have been a surprise (though it was to me, as always an optimistic sap) when efforts to prevent the Trump campaign from having the best possible legal advocates as it pursues challenges to the 2020 election results would bear ugly fruit.
The NeverTrump Lincoln Project joined the anti-Trump Democrats in targeting the law firms hired by the campaign. Election law specialists Porter, Wright, Morris & Arthur and its lawyers were threatened with professional ruin. The theory went that daring to support the President of the United States constitutes a “dangerous attack on our democracy.” The firm, showing a dearth of legal ethics and integrity withdrew, whining that the assault on its reputation created a conflict of interest, was disrupting the firm, and had prompted at least one lawyer’s resignation. Since then other firms have dropped the campaign as a client, and the reason was fear—of losing clients, of being shunned in the legal community, of losing money. Mostly the latter.
This is only the latest progression in the decay of basic law firm ethics that began during the Obama administration. The reason is—broken record here—bias.
” Nice law firm you got here. Too bad if something were to happen to it…”
As I explained here and here in 2015, the process of judicially determining whether the Defense of Marriage Act was constitutional or not was unethically sabotaged by threats to and improper lobbying of the law firm that had agreed to defend it. The Justice Department and the President had refused to do their sworn duty to uphold the laws of the United States, and same-sex marriage activists pressured the biggest client of the firm that had accepted the case to pass the pressure along. It worked. The firm dropped the case, precipitating a resignation by the partner handling it and this ringing assertion of traditional legal ethics:
“…[D]efending unpopular positions is what lawyers do. The adversary system of justice depends on it, especially in cases where the passions run high. Efforts to delegitimize any representation for one side of a legal controversy are a profound threat to the rule of law.”
This was, we are learning, not an anomaly. On the Volokh Conspiracy, law professor Josh Blackmon relates how the same strategy of applying of unethical political pressure, and the unprofessional capitulation of major law firms to it, nearly made a legitimate challenge to illegal payments to insurers under Obamacare impossible. He explains in part: Continue reading
Charles Green helpfully sent me the link to today’s New York Times piece documenting how…
“the imbalance in legal firepower in the same-sex marriage cases resulted from a conviction among many lawyers that opposition to such unions is bigotry akin to racism. But there were economic calculations, too. Law firms that defend traditional marriage may lose clients and find themselves at a disadvantage in hiring new lawyers.”
“Am I right that something’s quite amiss here?” he asks. Indeed he is, and I’ve touched on it before.
There are several factors at work here, but the result is deplorable, and indictment of the corrupt values of the legal profession. One of the factors is bias, and it is a bias that the lawyers themselves are either unaware of, or are unwilling to avoid its effects as their professional codes of ethics require.
The majority of high-powered lawyers hail from urban centers where liberal culture flourishes among the wealthy, the powerful and the influential. These are cosmopolitan lawyers, sophisticated and urbane, who have gay colleagues, gay friends and gay children. They are less likely to be religious, and more likely to have contempt for those who are. Combine with them the legal academics who drive consensus on legal ethics matters—like most academics, they have marinated in the extreme leftist attitudes of U.S. academia—and it becomes clear why, as Michael W. McConnell, a former federal appeals court judge who teaches law at Stanford, tells the Times, “The level of sheer desire to crush dissent is pretty unprecedented.”
I noticed this in 2011, when the legal ethicists I follow, know and debate with decreed virtually en masse that a judge who was not only gay himself but in a long term domestic relationship with his partner had no ethical obligation to recuse himself before he issued the decision on the constitutionality of California’s anti-same sex marriage Proposition 8. Nor did they feel he was ethically obligated to disclose his situation before ruling. I wrote: Continue reading
John Adams defended the guys in red, and Paul Clement understands why.
Law firm King & Spalding announced Monday that it would no longer represent congressional Republicans regarding the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the controversial 1996 legislation that defines marriage as being only between a man and a woman.. In response, the firm’s chief appellate lawyer, Paul Clement, who was handling the case, resigned from the firm.
In February, the Obama administration announced that its Justice Department would refuse to defend DOMA in a number of lawsuits, an unusual, controversial and troubling decision. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to conceive of other federal laws another administration might decide to render dead letters by non-defense despite being duly passed by the people’s representatives. A government has an obligation to duly execute its laws or repeal them. The policy of the Administration regarding DOMA raised issues of governmental integrity quite separate from the provisions of the law itself. Continue reading