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Do Lawyers Promote Immorality?

I begin this entry with a broad apology to my numerous “very moral” lawyer friends, and the many lawyers I must unfortunately pay to protect me and my company from those that would use the law to keep from paying their bills, avoid their contractual obligations, and perform other immoral actions.

OK – that might have a “holier than thou” sound to it. Certainly any of us might get into legitimate disputes with no clear winner or one side that has the lower moral ground, and it is wonderful that we have the law and lawyers to arbitrate such disputes. I also believe that left unchecked, the system always has the potential to overrun the less fortunate and those that can’t afford proper legal firepower. We are lucky that we have bright very moral lawyers willing to step forward and protect them, the basic tenants of the legal system, the environment, and certain aspects of our society and political system that might otherwise be endangered. So the title of this entry is certainly not aimed at everyone that passed the bar.

However, as one that has been involved in many legal disputes over the years, I am constantly struck by how smart lawyers can manipulate the law to help their clients do some very immoral things. It seems there is a fine line between providing “the best possible legal defense”, and assisting a client with some pretty nefarious and scummy actions.

Most of the time if I am in a legal dispute it is because someone owes my company money. 90% of the time these are essentially uncontested disputes until the lawyers get involved. For instance, right now a client owes us an enormous amount of money. There is no real dispute. The client admits they owe the money. They admit they pulled a few really boneheaded and probably illegal actions that created the debt. But instead of dealing with the issue in a professional manner and doing all they can to settle the debt, they have hired lawyers that use the law to threaten us, and create roadblocks to settling the situation. Instead of everyone cooperating to achieve the best outcome, the debtor’s lawyers instruct their client on how to delay and abuse the law to keep from paying. First they spend weeks arguing where we will argue. Then they attempt to turn us into the bad guy for even taking the position we should get paid. “Push us and we will declare bankruptcy”, they threaten. Right now I am sure they are instructing their client on how to best hide their assets so they can pay less. In many ways it is like hiring someone to instruct you how to legally steal. And the problem is that they are only doing their job, if one accepts the very broad idea of “best legal defense”.

I often wonder why the law has to be so black and white? It often appears that it is constructed for those incapable of thinking through a complex issue. How does it serve the law and society when any of the following occur:

  • Knowing full well his client is guilty, a lawyer finds a ridiculous technicality to get his murderer / rapist (fill in the heinous crime) client released.
  • A lawyer allows an innocent man to rot in prison (or worse – be executed) to protect attorney / client privilege.
  • A lawyer instructs his client on how to construct complex financial shells to avoid paying creditors / spouses, etc.

The list is almost endless. And it is usually a case of allowing technicalities to govern an issue to protect the much larger legal theory (a theory that in some way is ultimately supposed to protect all of us). But the law grows more complex on an almost daily basis, and with this complexity there is an increase in the number of loopholes that fall into the theory of best legal defense.

Do we live in such a regimented and jaded society that we collectively can’t govern through nuances to really achieve justice? To protect the masses must we allow a constant stream of small injustices? I certainly don’t think that most lawyers are immoral and accordingly spread immorality. But lawyers largely control the legal system, and if they continue to build it in a rigid fashion that promotes injustice we will all pay the price.

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