Though slender and unpretentious, William Simon's new book, The Practice of Justice,
packs a wallop. Aiming at nothing less than a radical rethinking of lawyer's ethics, it proposes a new conception of our professional responsibilities and challenges us to examine critically the conventional norms of our professional role. Along the way, it explores the scope and underpinning of our loyalty to clients, our obligations to protect the rights of third parties and our duty to promote justice...Simon's writing is lucid, well-organized and jargon-free...The cogency of [his] critique of the dominant view...shakes the grounds on which we currently practice...Thus, Simon's work is profoundly unsettling, even disorienting, both intellectually and emotionally. Therein lies its enormous value. (James M. Altman New York Law Journal
Thus, it is easily argued that lawyers should practice under a very different ethical regime. The problem is, then, what should that regime look like? How should we expect lawyers to act in the current context? Simon offers a valuable answer, to be sure
It hasn't closed the debate over legal, but jump-started it by making a serious and important contribution to thinking about the practice of law. For that he merits great praise. (Thomas M. Hilbink The Law and Politics Book Review
William Simon is the George Orwell of the legal profession, a fearless, bluntly honest and clear-sighted observer whose sharp critique of lawyers' practices arises from his deep attachment to their ideals. Simon's book is clearly one of the most important statements of the aims, purposes, and practical ethics of law practice ever to have appeared in this legal culture. His ambition is to reconceptualize the entire subject, to give a thorough exposition and critique of the ethical views that currently permeate law practice in this society, and to put forward a fully-fledged alternative. The special power and appeal of Simon's approach consists in that he views legal ethics neither as solely tied to specialized rules or roles nor as a branch of personal morality, but as necessarily and intimately connected with the justice-serving goals of the legal system. His analysis of how lawyers can cope with the inevitable complexities and ambiguities of a legal system shot through with conflicting purposes is especially brilliant. Unlike so much writing on professional ethics, Simon's is neither naively idealistic nor cynical and demoralized: it is impressive because his views are grounded in considerable experience, personal and vicarious, of how lawyers actually behave--every point is illustrated by thickly described examples of real practice situations--and are also linked to basic conceptions of jurisprudence and social theory. It would be hard to find a better illustration in legal literature of how theory can inform and structure inquiries into practice, and the knowledge of practice in turn help to qualify and amplify theoretical insight. Original and unconventional, Simon's work challenges almost all of the prevailing orthodoxies of legal ethics. Whether or not lawyers are ultimately convinced by Simon's efforts to reconstruct legal ethics on a foundation of lawyering as a justice-seeking profession, if they read his work carefully they will never be able again to think about their work in the comfortable old formula of zealous advocacy in an adversary system. (Robert W. Gordon Yale Law School
About the Author
William H. Simon
is Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law at Stanford University.