Does the President not have a personal attorney because those attorneys are afraid of being disbarred or possibly going to jail? Very interesting follow up from TPM Reader EF …
I’ve been practicing law for 34 years, concentrating in recent years on professional responsibility matters, and teach legal ethics at a prominent law school in the city where I practice. I agree with the TPM reader who surmises that representing Trump would cause women partners to depart and prospects to look elsewhere. I also agree with others’ observations that Trump’s reputation as a deadbeat and as a client who won’t follow legal advice is also a reason why most or all reputable firms would steer clear. But I also think something else is at play: attorney ethical rules.
All prominent firms now have in-house general counsel to whom firm lawyers go for ethical advice. There is little doubt that an inquiry to represent Trump would be vetted by the firm’s managing partner and its general counsel. Trump as a client is a flashing ethical red light. He is a pathological liar. He is probably engaged in obstructing justice on an ongoing basis. He will certainly continue to tell lies and place his lawyers in the position of having to repeat them or disavow them. Distilled to their essence, the rules of professional conduct prohibit a lawyer from lying, using evidence he or she knows to be false (including a client’s lie), helping a client commit a crime or fraud, or letting a client use the lawyer to commit a crime or fraud. Representing Trump places any lawyer squarely in that ethical buzzsaw. It is like being asked to be a lawyer for the mob, assuming, as I think he is, Trump is an ongoing criminal enterprise.
The ethical issue is different for a lawyer representing a client solely regarding past crimes. The lawyer must still steer clear of lying and using a client’s lies, but his or her representation is not facilitating ongoing criminal conduct, and there are special rules for a criminal defense lawyer whose client wants to take the stand and lie in his defense at trial. But the investigation is not solely about the past. Trump is still in office and still highly motivated and capable of obstructing justice. What reputable lawyer would want any part of that, even if he or she thought they’d get paid?
I think I’ve always filed these sorts of concerns under ‘client won’t take your advice’ column. But this has a ring of truth to me. I would imagine no lawyer wants to be faced with the choice of in essence turning on their client (albeit for ethical reasons) or dropping them mid-representation and doing things that may endanger their lawyer status or even expose them to legal jeopardy.