Lawyers are often thought to be hardly better than hired guns, who, in the words of Plato, are paid to "make the weaker argument the stronger" -- like the sophists of old. In fact, lawyers are le
Our blurb for this show says,
Lawyers are often thought to be hardly better than hired guns, who, in the words of Plato, are paid to "make the weaker argument the stronger" -- like the sophists of old. .
My father, grandfather and uncle were lawyers, in the small firm then called "Perry & Perry" in Lincoln, Nebraska, and my cousin and his son continue in that firm, now known as "Perry, Guthery, Haase & Gessford". If the Danforth Foundation hadn't kindly offered me a fellowship to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy at Cornell, I would have followed the family tradition. It never occurred to me, as I was growing up, the law was anything but the most honorable of professions.
Lawyers, it seemed to me, had the very honorable calling of helping ordinary citizens cope with the law, with contracts, with lawsuits, when they were accused of crimes, when they wanted to petition the government for redress of grievances, and so forth. And, I must say, lawyers have helped me in most of those ways, and the lawyers who have helped me have all seemed like honorable, hard-working people, who earned the fees they charged. We are proud to live in a nation of laws rather than men, and how could we do that without lawyers? So when and why did lawyers get the bad reputation reflected in our quote, and expressed every day in lawyer jokes?
And, come to think of it, if lawyers are such jerks, how come the law school has a higher pay scale than the philosophy department ---- but I digress.
There are presumably many reasons that lawyers have acquired, in the eyes of many of the non-lawyers in our society, a bad reputation. For every television show that represents them in a positive light, like Perry Mason or Matlock, there must be a dozen that cast them in a less favorable light, like one of my current favorites, Boston Legal. And a lot of lawyers work for big corporations, helping them to avoid taxes, avoid just punishment for peddling defective products, and the like.
But one reason, and the one we are most likely to explore on the program, is that lawyers are often obliged, or seen to be obliged, because of legal ethics, the code of conduct to which lawyers subscribe, to do things that conflict with the more common sense dictates of morality. O.J. Simpson is widely, perhaps unfairly, seen to have gotten away with murder because his zealous lawyers flim-flammed the jury. And Robert Blake. Not to mention Michael Jackson, who wasn't accused of murdering anyone, but whose luck in the courtroom seemed also to exemplify the principle that people with enough money to hire lawyers who are good at making the true appear the false and the false appear the true can get away with anything. Especially in Southern California.
Lawyers have an obligation to pursue the interests of their clients, whether they defending tobacco companies that have conspired to keep the truth about the danger of their product from the public, or rapists or other depraved individuals who will commit more crimes if released, or helping stupid people who spill hot coffee on themselves with frivolous lawsuits that mean that the rest of us get tepid coffee from the local drive-in, or conniving so that big companies don't have to pay taxes and can continue to spoil the environment.
Not to mention prosecutors, who, if my sources of information, mostly television shows, are to be believed, regularly browbeat people into copping pleas for crimes they didn't commit.
But our system is an adversarial system. Justice is served by vigorous prosecution and defense. Does this imply that lawyers are obliged to behave in ways that don't always serve justice, and don't always benefit society, and aren't always very fair to everyone involved --- particularly to the people who don't have enough money to hire the top guns? Does the nature of our legal system put lawyers in a moral dilemma, where the obligations of their profession require them to act in ways that can have terrible consequences? Is there a better way to do all of this?
Well, these are some of the issues we will explore with noted philosopher of law David Luban, of Georgetown University, We had a great program with him once before, on war crimes, and this should be a good one too. Join us as we discuss the ethical obligations of lawyers to their clients, to the court, and to society at large.