”The rules of professional conduct effectively work to protect all those lawyers out there whose moral standing is just a hair’s breadth above your average mass murderer.”

The quote that serves as the title of this post is to be found in an opinion piece entitled  “Pay enough and you’ll always get the advice you want to hear” in the Syndey Morning Hearld. The opinion piece makes a familiar and not entirely unfair charge against the legal profession, meaning that people and corporations with the  money to do so can and sometimes do buy the reputations of well known, high priced law firms.  The problem is making such a charge is that there is no way to prove it or, for that matter, to disprove it.  Most law is practiced in private and most legal opinions and advice never see the light of day.  More specifically, while there is fodder for the opinion piece in the SMH, I can think of no case where it has become public that a lawyer said to a client, “My advice is don’t do it.  You’d be a damn fool to try it.”  Or, “An argument could be made to support what you want to do, but it may not pass the laugh test  and will not shield your company from suffering harm to its reputation.”    Or, “My firm will not do what you ask.” Such advice is surely given, often followed and rarely made public.

The quote, however, is a serious charge against the profession’s obligation to self-regulate.  To say that lawyer regulatory rules “effectively work to protect all those lawyers out there whose moral standing is just a hair’s breath above your average mass murderer,” is as thorough a disparagement of the major rules governing lawyer conduct as one could imagine.  And of course those rules did not write themselves; they were written and adopted by respected members of the profession at the national and state levels.

The opinion names the alleged source of that damning quote which turns out to be very close to home.  He is a highly respected law professor.  You’ll have to read the opinion to find out who he is.  If anyone knows where the quote came from – an article, book or lecture – I would appreciate it if you would let me know.  Provocative, even reckless, statements can open valuable, unexpected ways  of thinking about important subjects including the Rules of Professional Conduct.