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.