The Special Shame of Being A Lawyer in an Adversarial System

It is probably true that all professions have their private shames–things that members of the profession regularly do in the interests of benefiting themselves at the expense of their clients or customers.

Universities, for example,  knowingly create advertising campaigns and provide advice that is self-serving, partial, and manipulative. They do so, while knowing that they control the flow of information being handed out to those who have almost no clue that they are being objectified as revenue sources and treated with all the callousness implied by that technical-sounding phrasing. The omnibus justification, always providing ethical solace should anyone be bothered by participating in this farce—-WE HAVE TO DO IT; THAT’S THE WAY THIS GAME IS PLAYED BY OUR COMPETITORS.

But the behavior of successful law firms is particularly repugnant in this respect. While they may donate time and resources to assist the vulnerable as a sop to their consciences, their central focus is working on behalf of the comfortable for only the comfortable can pay the fees that are necessary to sustain the opulent life style of that cadre of lawyers working for top law firms. Exceptions?  Of course. And those people are wonderful. But how many large law firms would turn down the Dow chemical or Dole foods accounts?

How does one anesthetize that portion of the mind that feels empathy required when championing behavior that brutalizes the humanity of  workers? Does anyone know? What kind of creature puts on expensive clothes, drives a fancy car into work and places ones intellect at the bidding of corporations who treat other humans in the fashion described in this article? Do you tell your conscience, “the banana workers have their attorneys also.” or “the lawyers on the other side are not telling the complete truth.” or “I am proud to say that in our system of justice Dole deserves to have its side heard as well.”

Robert J. Lifton’s wonderful book, NAZI DOCTORS analyzes doubling, the ability for a person to live a double life–one of relative nobility and the other of obedient cruelty. Degrees of nobility and cruelty matter hugely, but using your substantial skills to mask corporate or plutocratic vileness seems uncommonly blameworthy to me.

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