Are Lawyers Morally Responsible for Their Clients?

In a democratic society, citizens have the right to be informed about what lawyers do and why they do it. It is reasonable to ask lawyers to explain their representation of certain clients, and lawyers are morally obligated to answer within the limits of ethical representation. Some may say that naive students do not understand that lawyers do not personally approve of the actions of their clients by defending their cases, but they are fulfilling an essential procedural guarantee. Ronald Sullivan, a former Harvard law professor, evaluated all possible causes in the world and chose to represent Harvey Weinstein, a man who has made it clear that he wants lawyers who discredit and undermine the 80 women who have accused him of sexual misconduct. Weinstein had his lawyers hire Israeli intelligence agents to find damaging information about the women who had accused him.

Students would not have objected as much if Sullivan had only defended poor clients with criminal charges, implying that they are not naively assuming that lawyers support everything their client did, but they are disturbed that a professor is helping an affluent offender who really does not need more help trying to destroy his victims. Duncan Kennedy, also a former Harvard law professor, once gave a commencement speech to law students entitled “The responsibility of lawyers for the fairness of their clients' cases”, arguing that legal professionals should not accept the argument that choosing to represent someone is morally neutral. Sullivan's defenders point to a long history of lawyers dealing with “unpopular client” cases, from John Adams defending those accused of the Boston massacre to civil rights lawyers defending African-American men accused of rape in the Jim Crow South and those who defended people detained at Guantánamo on charges of terrorism. Defense advocacy can be unpleasant since it involves questioning the narratives of victims and presenting arguments in support of some bad people, but most people understand that someone has to do this for the system to be fair. The moral responsibility of lawyers is an important issue in our society. It is essential for citizens to be aware of what lawyers do and why they do it.

Lawyers must be held accountable for their actions and must answer questions about their representation of certain clients. It is also important for legal professionals to understand that choosing to represent someone is not morally neutral and should be done with care. Lawyers should also remember that defense advocacy is an essential part of our justice system and should be done with respect for all parties involved.

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