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The Moral Compass of the American Lawyer: Truth, Justice, Power, and Greed Kindle Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Length: 288 pages

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

We have all heard the derogatory jokes comparing lawyers to slimy, venomous invertebrates. And we have laughed. On the scale of public contempt, the legal profession ranks somewhere between tabloid journalists and telemarketers. What should be a good and honorable vocation is collectively vilified as devious and mercenary. In The Moral Compass of the American Lawyer, Richard Zitrin and Carol M. Langford try to explain legal ethics to nonlawyers. While they provide a vigorous defense of the American system of justice, they also note the ethical catastrophes caused by the excesses of the adversarial process.

Lawyers are not paid to defend "Truth, Justice, and the American Way," the authors note; they are paid to defend their clients, and the duty of zealous advocacy sometimes pushes lawyers to work at the margins of decency. Some lawyers straddle the ethical line, or skip back and forth with impunity; others dive headlong over the edge and never return. Clients want to hire successful lawyers, of course, and the lawyers who are successful are too often the ones who are willing to ignore the boundaries of professional responsibility. The ethics of the profession seem to be defined by whatever the slickest can get away with. Nice lawyers finish last in this race to the bottom, and the victors gladly suffer the slings and arrows of popular opinion as they amass outrageous billable hours. The Moral Compass of the American Lawyer is a sweeping overview of the ethical dilemmas that face every member of the legal profession every day--whether they are a criminal defense lawyer, personal injury attorney, corporate in-house counsel, or junior associate at a 500-lawyer megafirm. The authors also provide a frank assessment of the shortcomings of the entire U.S. judicial system, from the law schools to the courtrooms, and what can be done to remedy the situation. --Tim Hogan

From Publishers Weekly

As a starting place for a broad-reaching contemplation of the moral challenges that face a much-maligned profession, Zitrin and Langford's book is as good as any. The authors ask whether it is possible for a lawyer to remain a decent human being while practicing law in the current system. Their conclusion is less than sanguine. Each chapter addresses a different type of ethical dilemma that lawyers regularly face in their practice. The earlier chapters deal with the types of scenarios that underlie the general public's distrust of lawyers: criminal trial attorneys who protect or become complicit with defendants; corporate attorneys who do the same for their wealthy clients. The book then moves on to more "lawyerly" concerns, such as the difficulties of representing a "class" in a class action and the use of attorney/client privilege by in-house corporate counsel. The authors, both practitioners and teachers, conclude with a chapter on their view of the changes necessary to protect the ethical future of the legal profession. General readers will likely savor the real-life accounts of unethical and sometimes criminally liable attorneys, while attorneys themselves may have little incentive to finish a book that implies that common human decency and morality are most often left at the door in the practice of law. If there's a fundamental flaw to the book, it's the emphasis on extreme examples of bad behavior rather than on the moral tightropes that even the most ethical lawyers walk every day. Major ad/ promo.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 444 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (October 12, 2011)
  • Publication Date: October 12, 2011
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005O1BYNC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #594,483 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I am a paralegal, and have worked in the legal field for 23 years. I could not put this book down. I have been talking about it since I turned the pages of the first chapter. I recommend it to everyone; I plan to read it again, and when it is not in use, I place it in plain sight of the lawyers with whom I work. Langford and Zitrin have written an important commentary about the practice of law that is easy reading for non-lawyers without being condescending. But their book should be required reading for every lawyer. It is as if someone finally mentioned the elephant in the center of the room.
How did the profession get this far afield? Clients are served less and less while more lawyers are churned out of law schools, and competition is fierce. Money talks; clients at the lower end of the economic scale get less effective counsel or simply try to solve problems without representation. The legal profession has evolved into a business to survive; but, along the way, its vision has deteriorated with regard to justice, public service, and what is morally right.
The fact pattern presented at the beginning of each chapter had me guessing about its outcome as I read on regarding actual, related cases. The anecdotal evidence of injustice and moral dilemma is overwhelming. These are not just occasional news items. They are things that happen every day to lawyers and ordinary people.
I loved their straightfoward and common sense proposals for solutions to make the practice of law better for everyone involved. If only the legal profession, which, as they point out, largely regulates itself, had the courage to implement them.
Just read it, okay?
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Format: Paperback
I am afraid that I don't share other reviewers' enthusiasm for this book. Others have noted that it is rather short on solutions to the problems that it outlines. However, it seems to me that this book doesn't know which audience it is aimed at.
My instincts tell me that it is aimed at the general public - not least because of the breezy, senasationalist tone it adopts. There's an awful lot of scaremongering of the "Gee - isn't it awful what these lawyers are doing?" variety. Indeed, I don't take issue with the factual accuracy of the behaviors instanced by the authors. However, my gripe is that the authors do not put these acts in proportion - the lay reader will come away from this book without any idea at all as to how common are these practices that the authors catalog.
The reputation of the legal profession in the United States is at a pretty low ebb. This book will do nothing to improve public perceptions of it. I do not claim that all is well and the public has nothing to worry about - however, the public does deserve to know just how widespread are the practices that the authors describe. The subtitle for this book might just as well be "lawyers are bad for your wealth" yet the public cannot do without legal services. We can expect those who read this book to view their visit to a lawyer's office with as much enthusiasm as a visit to a dentist or a proctologist. Frankly I think the public deserve to be better informed than this on the issues raised by this book.
Lawyers will find little surprising here - other than the impression that the temple of the law is falling about heads and we know nothing, or care nothing, about it.
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Format: Hardcover
Zitrin and Langford challenge those in the legal profession to aspire towards a higher standard than the billable hour. They do well at illustrating the ethical conflicts lawyers face daily with examples from cases that stretch the limits of honest representation. In the end, however, attorneys looking for ethical guidance or for ways out of the ethical dilemmas and conflicts Zitrin and Langford present, will be a little disappointed as the authors only catalog the extremes and the abuses without ever offering solutions; these extremes and abuses are the same cases and examples lawyers were presented with in law school and agonized over in ethics courses. A young member of the profession looking for some guidance from these experienced attorneys will unfortunately find no guidance forthcoming, so in this respect, Zitgrin and Langford do no more than cast stones. Yet the book is extremely valuable as it forces the attorney to return to those law school hypotheticals and ethics dilemmas and wrestle with them once again, this time from the perspective of one who has experienced the pressures to pad the timesheet, to withhold the discovery request, and to justify what most folks would call "lies" as zealous representation. Zitrin and Langford also illustrate that there is often a huge gap between what is ethical and what is moral, and for these reasons, this book should be taught in the law schools along with the Model Rules and the case books.
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Format: Hardcover
Intended for popular consumption, Zitrin & Langford provide a riveting, accessible exploration of the ethical ambiguities posed by the adversary theorem in legal practice.

The adversary theorem, the core of American legal practice, asserts that zealous advocacy on behalf of clients will serve the ultimate cause of justice even if lawyers engage in otherwise questionable behavior because the competition between lawyers who engage in the same practices ensures that justice will ultimately prevail.

Folks looking to denounce lawyers lightly will find little sympathy for lawyers by reading the cases in this book. Rather than consider the implications of the billable hours or the justifications for Frank Armani's interpretation of confidentiality, they'll rush to denounce. It's always easy to pre-judge. That's why lawyers exist.

Zitrin & Langford are less interested in denouncing the adversary theorem than in examining its effect in the real world. The proposals they offer mesh with developments that occurred after their book. The American Bar Association revised its model rules in 2002. Harvard Law School added a pro bono requirement for all students. Law firms tout their pro bono service prominently on their websites, sometimes more prominently than they tout their client list.

Zitrin & Langford add considerably to serious discussion about the application of ethics to legal practice - a perpetual discussion that will last so long as humans disagree.
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