THE MORAL COMPASS OF THE AMERICAN LAWYER by Richard Zitrin

THE MORAL COMPASS OF THE AMERICAN LAWYER

Truth, Justice, Power, and Greed

KIRKUS REVIEW

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 moderate calls 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)

Pub Date: May 25th, 1999
ISBN: 0-345-43314-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1999




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