Saturday, August 19, 2006

Assigned Reading for Lawyers

There are a couple of paragraphs from Judge Gladys Kessler's opinion that I would hope would provide the basis for at least some discussion during the three years of every law student's training. (See Henri E. Cauvin and Rob Stein, "Big Tobacco Lied to Public, Judge Says," Washington Post, August 18, 2006.)

Speaking of the cigarette company defendants, she wrote:

"Put more colloquially and less legalistically, over the course of more than 50 years, defendants lied, misrepresented and deceived the American public, including smokers and the young people they avidly sought as 'replacement smokers,' about the devastating health effects of smoking and environmental tobacco smoke.

"[The cigarette companies] suppressed research, they destroyed documents, they manipulated the use of nicotine so as to increase and perpetuate addiction . . . and they abused the legal system in order to achieve their goal -- to make money with little if any regard for individual illness and suffering, soaring health costs, or the integrity of the legal system."

"At every stage, lawyers played an absolutely central role in the creation and perpetuation of the Enterprise and the implementation of its fraudulent schemes. [They] hid the relationship between . . . witnesses and the industry; and they devised and carried out document destruction policies and took shelter behind baseless assertions of the attorney client privilege.

"What a sad and disquieting chapter in the history of an honorable and often courageous profession."

Questions of lawyers' ethical and other responsibilities are not slam dunk simple. Our system is premised on the assumption that even the most dispicable are entitled to legal representation. However, the tactics we can ethically utilize in their defense are circumscribed in ways that at least this one judge clearly thought had been violated in this case.

Business school graduates who apply to work for firms engaged in enterprises of similarly questionable ethical impact, or who continue to work for such firms, don't have that excuse (i.e., that the firms are entitled to representation).

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