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The Moral Compass of the American Lawyer: Truth, Justice, Power and Greed
     

The Moral Compass of the American Lawyer: Truth, Justice, Power and Greed

5.0 1
by Richard A. Zitrin, Carol M. Langford
 
These are perilous times for America's lawyers—and for Americans who rely on lawyers. Blatant abuses of power and trust, reckless ethical misconduct, grossly unjust billing practices, and dishonesty disguised as client confidentiality have all undermined the credibility of lawyers and imperiled the authority of the legal system. In the court of public opinion,

Overview

These are perilous times for America's lawyers—and for Americans who rely on lawyers. Blatant abuses of power and trust, reckless ethical misconduct, grossly unjust billing practices, and dishonesty disguised as client confidentiality have all undermined the credibility of lawyers and imperiled the authority of the legal system. In the court of public opinion, many lawyers these days are more culpable than the criminals they defend and prosecute.

Is the public right? In this eye-opening, incisive book, Richard Zitrin and Carol Langford, two practicing lawyers and distinguished law professors, shine a penetrating light on one of the most critical issues now confronting our judicial system: legal ethics. Pick up any newspaper and you will no doubt see a heated debate between lawyers who view certain legal behavior as "ethical" and average citizens who judge that same conduct in terms of "morality." Through in-depth analysis and case studies of actual trials ranging from murder to class action suits, Zitrin and Langford go behind the headlines to investigate why lawyers behave the way they do—and what impact that behavior has on our legal system. The result is a stunningly lucid exploration of law as it is practiced in America today—and a cogent, detailed, ground-breaking program for legal reform.

Zitrin and Langford begin with a frank and fascinating discussion of a harrowing criminal case to illustrate why a defense lawyer's zealous advocacy is necessary not just to protect reprehensible clients but to ensure many of the freedoms we all enjoy. But problems arise when that same unfettered zeal is applied to the civil arena, where the power and moneyof large corporations can jeopardize the ordinary citizen's access to justice.

Zitrin and Langford then probe the other major legal issues of our day, including how large multinational law firms use prolonged, expensive "discovery wars" to win the majority of cases before they ever come to trial—or to the public's attention; how lawyers have turned trials into legal theater in which race, sex, and "spin" replace evidence, facts, and truth; and how lawyers have managed to turn class action suits into massive money-makers—for themselves.

But it doesn't have to be this way. In the book's powerful final chapter, Zitrin and Langford outline a concrete, workable program for changing the way law is practiced while retaining the vision and intent of the Founding Fathers. Timely, provocative, and absolutely mesmerizing, The Moral Compass of the American Lawyer is essential reading for anyone who cares about truth and justice in our society.

Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Groner
A criminal defense lawyer learns in confidence from his client, who is facing a murder trial, that the defendant committed not only the crime he is charged with but also another brutal, and unsolved, slaying...What should the attorney do when facing these dilemmas?....Zitrin and Langford write as people who love the law and are therefore deeply troubled by these paradoxes. The heart of this book comprises 10 case studies that starkly pose these and similar questions....Give this attorney duo the credit for putting their fingers on one reason why the legal profession has developed an odious reputation over the past several decades and for trying to find a way out.
Washington Post
Library Journal
In this book about morality and American lawyering, Zitrin and Langford, practicing California lawyers and law professors, raise key questions about the behavior of many in their profession. They find a weak ethical foundation to the practice of law in this country owing to serious conflicts between legal representation and moral outcomes. The structure of the legal profession, especially in large firms, and lawyers behaviorbased upon zealous advocacy and a strong advocacy theorem in which the lawyer does not adopt the views of the client but merely defends themlead to major ethical dilemmas in both civil and criminal cases. The authors argue that lawyers should recognize the moral costs of their actions and redraw the balance between lawyers obligations to clients and to society. Zitrin and Langford offer general prescriptions for reform of the legal system and its institutions to increase societal responsibility among lawyers. This book will interest and inform adult audiences about ethical and professional conflicts in the law.Steven Puro, St. Louis Univ.
Kirkus Reviews
An examination of why lawyers act like slimeballs and what can be done about it. Scientists prefer using lawyers over rats for their experiments, the joke goes, because there are some things rats won't do. Given this popular conception of lawyers, you would expect a book about the "moral compass" of American lawyers to be exceedingly thin. Zitrin and Langford, who both teach law at the University of San Francisco, take their subject seriously, however, and point to a foundation of our legal system, the adversarial relationship, to explain lawyerly behavior. Conceiving of legal action as the pitting of one side against another requires that everyone have access to representation. Even the worst criminals and most irresponsible corporations must be able to confer in confidence with lawyers, whose role is to further the interests of their client to the best of their ability. This means that legal ethics—which enjoin lawyers to be advocates of particular interests—do not necessarily parallel common notions of morality; lawyers are supposed to serve clients, not seek justice. Zitrin and Langford lay out the attendant dilemmas through real-life examples that pose the problem for the reader, discussion of past cases and doctrine guiding past practice, and ultimately accounts of how the actual cases were resolved. Issues addressed include representing the guilty, withholding evidence, attorney-client privilege, zealousness of representation, pressures generated by large corporate practices, and settlements that withhold vital information from the public. Despite presenting a convincing case for doing away with the adversarial system, however, their suggestions for reform are moderatecalls for emphasizing ethics in legal training, reigning in large legal firms, and especially establishing guidelines for lawyers with less "wiggle room." Whether or not this will really reform a profession filled with "professionally trained wigglers" is open to question. An engaging effort to explain lawyers and their ethical dilemmas to a skeptical popular audience. (Author tour)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780345433145
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/20/1999
Edition description:
1st Edition
Pages:
274
Product dimensions:
6.39(w) x 9.51(h) x 1.05(d)

Read an Excerpt

When her kids reached school age, Sabrina Jones went back to work as a nurse's aide at a health care facility run by Just Like Home Inc. She soon became concerned by what she saw. She had worked at other nursing homes where cleanliness was a priority. But at Just Like Home, when she was assigned to clean the common areas and medical examination rooms, she was given ordinary household cleansers instead of the industrial-strength products that she knew were necessary to meet strict state standards. And she sometimes saw medical instruments that appeared unsterilized lying about the exam rooms.

Sabrina was just an hourly worker and reluctant to say anything. But after she felt she had developed a good relationship with her boss, she went to him with her concerns. Three days later, she was fired, allowed back into the facility only to clean out her locker in the company of a security guard. Jones was shocked and upset. She hired a lawyer, who sued Just Like Home for wrongful discharge.

Across town, Laura Bernardi, a senior associate at a large urban law firm, has been working 70 hours a week trying to impress her partners so she can make partner herself. Just Like Home is one of Laura's biggest clients, and she is assigned to defend the company in the Jones case. Laura knows that the Jones suit could mean big trouble for her client: Just Like Home has a pattern of cutting corners on more than just cleaning products. And Laura has seen an internal memo stating that Jones was fired because of what she suspected about the company's sloppy attitude about cleanliness.

But Laura has been taught that her primary ethical duty is to represent her client zealously. And she knows that she and Just Like Home have the upper hand. Sabrina's lawyer has taken a job in another state, leaving her without counsel. Still unemployed, Sabrina has little money to prosecute the lawsuit herself, and almost no knowledge about how to do it.

Knowing that Sabrina has moved in with her sister eighty miles south of the city, Laura sets the Jones deposition at a branch of her law firm that will require Sabrina to travel by train to the city center, then by bus out of the city, and then change buses. It's a time consuming and costly trip for an unemployed mother of two. When Sabrina calls to plead with Laura to set the deposition at the firm's main city office, Laura politely but firmly refuses.

Knowing Sabrina is not likely to show up at the deposition, Laura has a certified shorthand reporter ready and waiting. When Sabrina is not there on time, Laura waits ten more minutes, notes it on the reporter's official transcribed record, and heads back to her office to sign an already-prepared motion to dismiss the case based on Sabrina's failure to appear. Overwhelmed and daunted by the legal system, Sabrina again calls Laura, pleading for more time to reply to the motion and to find a new lawyer. Again Laura refuses. Her motion is heard and granted by the court, and Sabrina has lost her case almost before it's begun.

The story of Sabrina Jones and Laura Bernardi is true, though the names have been changed. Lawyers may have mixed feelings about what "Laura" did, but most would say she acted properly -- doing it by the book, using legal procedure to gain an advantage for her client. Few, if any, would call it unethical. Yet most non-lawyers would say that something wrong has taken place -- that justice has been not served, but denied.

Meet the Author

Richard M. Zitrin, a partner in the San Francisco firm of Zitrin & Mastromonaco, LLP, is an adjunct professor of law at the University of San Francisco, where he serves as coordinator of the legal ethics seminar curriculum and teaches a seminar in legal ethics and the practice of law. Zitrin also teaches trial practice at USF and legal ethics at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. He was a member of the State Bar of California's Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct from 1990 to 1996 and served as its chair in 1994-95.

Carol Langford is principal of the law office of Carol M. Langford in Walnut Creek, California, and a teacher of legal ethics at the University of San Francisco School of Law and at UC Hastings. She has also taught at UC Berkeley. She was a member of the State Bar of California's Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct from 1991 to 1997 and served as its chair in 1995-96.

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The Moral Compass of the American Lawyer 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Everyone who works in the legal field, but lawyers especially, should read this book. It is a synopsis of what is wrong with our legal system, with proposals for solutions. Instead of sitting around grumbling, Langford and Zitrin have had the courage to write critically about their own profession and make some innovative suggestions for change which make sense. I commend them for bringing the legal system's problems to light in such a well written volume, and I encourage all to read it.