Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Profiles in Cowardice: King & Spalding

I've spent too many decades and too many dollars working with lawyers to have very many illusions of the industry left. Many of the lawyers I've known are terrific people and impressive professionals. Some, not so much.

In all that experience, I've not yet personally met an outright coward or a complete prostitute for fees.

The King & Spalding firm and its chairman, Robert Hays, set a new low standard for the former and a dark example of the latter.

It is almost unknown for a firm to dump client representation once it has started. I've never actually known of it happening before this. According to Mr. Hays, K&S has spent much of the time since it signed the contract two weeks ago working to break it.

Interestingly, the news release announcing its abandonment of its client does not appear on the firm's website though scores of other, lesser news items do. Instead, on its home page K&S makes great hay from the fame and great respect accorded its former partner, Attorney General Griffin Bell. Among Mr. Bell's strongest-held values were his appreciation for the ethics he held and practiced.

According to Griffin Bell,
You are not required to take every matter that is presented to you, but having assumed a representation, it becomes your duty to finish the representation. Sometimes you will make a bad bargain, but as professionals, you are still obligated to carry out the representation. Sometimes you will make a bad bargain, but as professionals, you are still obligated to carry out the representation.
These are words with which Mr. Bell's firm and its chairman no longer agree. Every client and every potential client is now forewarned that representation by K&S is subject to veto by the perceived will of the politically strong.

As Mr. Clement, the individual lawyer and K&S partner at the center of the storm wrote in his resignation letter,
…I resign out of the firmly-held belief that a representation should not be abandoned because the client's legal position is extremely unpopular in certain quarters. Defending unpopular positions is what lawyers do. The adversary system of justice depends on it, especially in cases where the passions run high. Efforts to delegitimize any representation for one side of a legal controversy are a profound threat to the rule of law. Much has been said about being on the wrong side of history. But being on the right or wrong side of history on the merits is a question for the clients. When it comes to the lawyers, the surest way to be on the wrong side of history is to abandon a client in the face of hostile criticism.
I know that when I hire a law firm, I want it to have a backbone.

Those without need not apply.

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