The title was just for shock value. I’m actually on the side of lawyers acting like lawyers. Stop laughing.
An Atlanta “silk stocking” law firm, King & Spalding has been under fire for a week or so as one of its partners (at the rate of $520 an hour) took on the defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) for Republican House leaders when the Justice Department announced that it would not defend the law in lawsuits asserting that the law is unconstitutional.
The firm’s chairman, announcing the firm would withdraw, said “[i]n reviewing this assignment further, I determined that the process used for vetting this engagement was inadequate.” AJC.com. He didn’t mention that the firm was under fire from gay groups and liberal quarters, with protests planned against it later in the week.
The partner who is handling the case, Paul D. Clement, a former Solicitor General, resigned saying “’I take this step not because of strongly held views about the statute. My thoughts about the merits of DOMA are as irrelevant as my views about the dozens of federal statutes that I defended as Solicitor General.
‘‘Instead, 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.’
“Clement closed his letter by quoting from a … former King & Spalding partner (and former Attorney General and former federal appellate judge) 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.’” NationalReview.com. (Emphasis added.)
Laugh if you will, lawyers have certain ethical obligations that result from the grant of the privilege to practice law. King & Spalding got lawyering exactly wrong and Mr. Clement got it exactly right.
I hope Mr. Clement with his new firm loses big time in his defense of DOMA but he should be applauded for his representation. His old firm needs to take a remedial professionalism course. Perhaps Mr. Clement will volunteer his services to teach it.