Masters of deceit

Why do people distrust lawyers as a group?  I have seen examples this year — mostly from one law firm that shall remain nameless — of sharp practice that may or may not be punishable under the Rules of Professional Conduct but goes well beyond the bounds of decency and professionalism.

In one case, a lawyer from that firm enlisted the aid of the general counsel of the employer of a key witness, went with the general counsel to a key witness’s work station, and together they prevailed upon the witness to change the story that he had given verbally to several people.  The employer’s general counsel then accompanied the obviously nervous employee witness to the deposition to keep him in line.  The poor guy needed to feed his family and preserve his retirement.  That’s called suborning perjury but I doubt we could ever prove it.

In another case, a lawyer from the same firm tried to slip in at the time of settlement — after exhaustive negotiation over the terms of installment payments with collateral over a term of several years — new documents and language on checks for the first installment of payments that would have had the effect of releasing all claims and all future payments. Slick. Very slick.

I had seen an order from a judge in another part of the state finding that lawyers from that firm had attempted to defraud the court and the opposing party. But I really didn’t want to believe they could be that systematically unethical.

All this was done by bright, attractive, socially pleasant young lawyers, doing as they were trained to do in a prominent firm with attractively decorated offices.  It is just one more small, relatively trivial example of the banality of evil.

While none of us are perfect, and we are engaged in an adversarial system and subject to sometimes fierce competitive pressures, it is important for members of our profession to maintain basic integrity and demonstrate virtuous character in both professional and personal lives.