Friday, May 22, 2015

Three by Ariens on the History of Legal Ethics

Michael S. Ariens, St. Mary's University School of Law, has posted three papers on the history of legal ethics.  The first is Lost and Found: David Hoffman and the History of American Legal Ethics, from the Arkansas Law Review 67 (2014):
David Hoffman was a successful Baltimore lawyer who wrote the first study of American law in 1817 and authored the first maxims of American legal ethics. Yet for more than a century after his death, Hoffman was a forgotten figure to American lawyers. Beginning in the late 1970s, Hoffman was re-discovered, and his writings on legal ethics have been favorably cited.

How and why was Hoffman “lost” to American law for over a century, and why he was “found”? Hoffman was lost to history because his view of ethics was premised on republican virtue, specifically the concept of honor. A lawyer acted honorably if his actions were morally sanctioned. Thus, Hoffman concluded a lawyer should refuse to plead the statute of limitations because, though legal, such action was dishonorable. When Hoffman wrote his maxims of legal ethics, the concept of honor was being displaced by individualism. The test of lawyer behavior became private conscience rather than public honor. This turn was accompanied by a second shift, in which lawyers accepted that legal ethics differed from public morality. Though an “officer of the court,” the lawyer’s foremost duty was to serve his client’s private interests, and the lawyer was not morally accountable to the public for the client’s goals. One consequence of these changes was the profession’s agreement that lawyers owed a duty to their clients to plead all legal claims and defenses. This vision left Hoffman behind.

Hoffman was found in response to a crisis within the modern American legal profession. By the late 1970s, many lawyers feared that the liberal ideal of the lawyer as a morally neutral, zealous agent (or “hired-gun”) effectuating a client’s goals ignored the lawyer’s duties to the public. This crisis was exacerbated by two events: Watergate, in which lawyers blindly followed the demands of their client, the President, to society’s detriment, and the ABA’s decision in 1978 to replace its 1969 Code of Professional Responsibility, because the Code embraced the “fiction” that ethical issues were “matters of ethics rather than law.” Because Hoffman concluded a lawyer’s duty to a client was limited by his duties to society, he was used as a relevant, historical example of an ethics of advocacy contrary to the “standard conception” of liberal neutrality. Hoffman was a touchstone justifying an ethics of virtue, of lawyers serving the ends of justice, not merely serving their client’s goals.
The second is Brougham's Ghost, North Illinois University Law Review 35 (2015):
In defending Queen Caroline in the House of Lords, Henry Brougham declared, “[a]n advocate, by the sacred duty of his connection with his client, knows, in the discharge of that office, but one person in the world, that client and none other.” Brougham’s ethic of advocacy has been cited repeatedly as stating the American lawyer’s duty of zealous representation of a client. It has often been called the “classic statement” of zealous representation and representing the “traditional view of the lawyer’s role.”

This essay challenges these conclusions. Brougham’s rhetoric was neither a classic statement of the duty of loyalty to a client, nor did it represent a traditional view within the American legal profession. It was consciously rejected in nearly all writings of American lawyers for most of American history, and was not explicitly embraced until the 1970s. Reminding lawyers of the duty of zealous representation was promoted in the 1960s in part to solidify the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Criminal Procedure revolution, for only zealous lawyers could protect the rights of the criminally accused. Brougham’s ethic of advocacy was used to provide a historical justification for a revived zeal in criminal defense practice, an effort to make those lawyers more professional. This justification was transformed in the 1970s by two events: first, the American legal profession became enmeshed in a professionalism crisis as a consequence of the Watergate affair. Second, that professionalism crisis was exacerbated by a fear of diminishing economic prospects for American lawyers.

This essay is divided into three parts. First, it offers a full assessment of Brougham’s representation of Queen Caroline. Second, it traces the published and negative reaction of American lawyers to Brougham’s statement of the duty of zealous representation from the 1840s on. Third, the essay explains why the consistent rejection of Brougham by American lawyers became the “classic statement” of the duty of the advocate beginning in the 1970s.
The third is The Agony of Modern Legal Ethics, 1970-1985, St. Mary's Journal of Legal Malpractice and Ethics 5 (2014): 134:
When the American Bar Association (ABA) adopted its Code of Professional Responsibility at its annual meeting in August 1969, the American legal profession was a publicly respected and economically vibrant body. Lawyers, though always more feared than loved, became increasingly important in post-World War II America. The demand for their services exploded for a quarter-century, and lawyers assumed an increased role in the economic and political life of the United States. During the 1950s and early 1960s, the Cold War led American lawyers and other public figures to re-emphasize the rule of law as defining the difference between the United States and the Soviet Union. Relatedly, American lawyers argued they possessed a central role in maintaining the rule of law. From the 1950s through the mid-1960s, the popular image of lawyers may have peaked. It was at this time that the ABA began its work to update the 1908 Canons of Ethics. The ABA’s adoption of the Code of Professional Responsibility in 1969 was the first significant reformulation of a lawyer’s code of ethics, and was intended to demonstrate that lawyers deserved the trust placed in them by American society. The ABA’s adoption of the Code, and its quick acceptance by most states as law, were the last acts in a "golden age."

By 1974, the American legal profession was reeling from the turmoil of the late 1960s, followed by the Watergate affair and an economic downturn that adversely affected many lawyers. The larger legal profession was buffeted by a series of lawsuits alleging antitrust violations by the ABA and state bar organizations, and the Supreme Court held in 1977 that a ban on lawyer advertising for ethical reasons was unconstitutional. Although some lawyers did exceedingly well economically during the 1970s, many struggled. In late 1977, the President of the ABA called for the Code’s replacement. Shortly thereafter, the ABA’s House of Delegates approved the nomination of the members of the Kutak Commission, which was handed this task. During the half-decade effort to craft the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the problematic ethical behavior of lawyers continued to make national news. Within the profession, a significant segment of the Bar rejected the structure and tenets of the Code, demanding a "modern" code of legal ethics befitting the needs of modern lawyers. Another segment of the lawyer population challenged the particular vision within the Code of the ethical duties of lawyers in representing clients. When the ABA adopted its Model Rules of Professional Conduct, it replaced a code that combined rules and aspirations with an approach that merely set a floor regarding lawyer conduct. The drafters of the Model Rules intentionally created a law of lawyering that supplanted an ethic of lawyering. Much more so than the Code, the Model Rules ushered in the modern understanding of lawyer.

This Article examines a crucial period in the history of American legal ethics, 1970-1985. Its thesis is that a shallow, though broad, consensus among American lawyers concerning the ideals of legal professionalism dissolved during the 1970s. An ideological dissensus, propelled by the scandalous behavior of some Executive Branch lawyers in the Watergate affair, joined by a heightened fear of economic torpor, shattered the post-World War II profession’s accepted self-definition.

The Model Rules of Professional Conduct implicitly acknowledged this ideological disagreement, a disagreement that has coursed through the history of the American legal profession from the late 1970s to the present.