As noted within the Law Office’s website, the Law Office hasn’t shied away from taking political stands. It represents only workers, not management, in employment law disputes, and maintains a pro-worker, pro-union, pro-labor perspective. It supports the legalization of marijuana, supports the 2nd Amendment as a human right – and also supports the 1st Amendment as a human right. Some cases the Law Office won’t take, due to profound disagreements at the philosophical level or due to practical reasons.
Occasionally, an attorney will represent a client in a controversial case regarding which friends, acquaintances and the opinionated masses of social media will ask: how can you represent such a person? Criminal defense attorneys encounter this routinely, particularly those who handle major felony work. Many causes are unpopular and attorneys may share in the “unpopularity” of their clients in some social situations.
Some attorneys respond to such inquiries stating that they “believe in the system” or believe in “everyone getting their day in court.” There is merit to these views, but that’s not what motivates me above all.
Lawyering isn’t a job, but a profession. What does this actually mean? Well, a mere commercial transaction can be of “low quality” but still valid. Professions, on the other hand, involve major study, set and enforce basic standards with codes of ethics and duties and expel practitioners who refuse obdurantly to meet standards. Medicine is a profession. Accounting is a profession. Engineering and architecture are professions, whereas interior design pretty much isn’t (it could be one theoretically and may someday be, but isn’t.) Religious life as a clergy person is a vocation, a calling even higher than the professions, in that the minister/rabbi/imam/pastor/priest is answerable to a “higher authority” than merely her peers, to paraphrase one of the most memorable ads ever.
5 million lawyer jokes aside (not that jokes are bad), we are supposed to give back 50 hours a year pro bono in Maryland; the District of Columbia has a similar, non-enforceable “hortatory” rule. Sometimes we represent popular causes; sometimes we represent grossly unpopular ones. Occasionally, we get a controversial figure with many people pro and con. Usually, we do pro bono work (when we do it, if we do it) quietly, without recognition – the unpaid UI case here, the tax advice to the disabled, indebted worker there. The practice of law is usually the unimaginative study of the unimaginative, or so most lawyers pray; pro bono work is usually no exception. USUALLY.
Fortunately, the rules of this profession not only urge (not mandate, at least in Maryland and DC) pro bono work under Rule 6.1 but help out both attorney and client by providing under Rule 1.2(b):
(b) A lawyer’s representation of a client, including representation by appointment, does not constitute an endorsement of the client’s political, economic, social or moral views or activities.
This provision helps broaden the practical access to justice by not imputing to clients or attorneys the views of the other.
The ability of an client to hire an attorney – for fee or without fee – without imputing an endorsement of any clients’ views back to the attorney (or the converse) broadens the access of attorneys to clients and clients to attorneys. It’s a common sense rule: we are there to address legal issues, not to cheerlead the personal views of the client. This is particularly important when the legal battle involves the freedom of speech itself, even (especially, actually) ideas in direct conflict with the attorney’s own “political, economic, social or moral” views.
My closest friend in law school, Nancy Yellin, Esquire, died with three of her family members at the hands of a South Florida drunk driver in 1997 who was in the U.S. illegally Did I stop handling drunk driving cases? No. Did I quit advocating for clients who have immigration status problems? No. I got robbed at gunpoint immediately outside my apartment in Owings Mills, Maryland in January of this year (2012). Did the punks’ snub-nosed .38 cause me to abandon my support for my clients referred from the NRA, or lead me to abandon criminal defense work? No. If a doctor gets punched in the face and injured, will she (upon healing and returning to work) stop treating ER patients who arrive injured from mutual affray bar fights? I don’t think so.
We are professionals and we have professional work to do.