Most Americans are at a loss when it comes to understanding how the legal system works. At the heart of this confusion is the contradiction between what lawyers and non-lawyers would say is ethical behavior. The authors of The Moral Compass of the American Lawyer argue that the adversarial theorem, which states that “when lawyers do their utmost to represent clients ‘zealously’ justice somehow triumphs” has created a “tension between the rules of legal ethics and other important principles of our society.” Their book analyzes actual legal cases in which the non-lawyer could easily argue that the legal system has failed to uphold justice or to protect the innocent. Zitrin and Langford look at these cases from the perspective of the lawyers involved, and point out where the principles of the lawyers diverge from the principles of the average person.
Following the presentation of the cases, the authors discuss some possible solutions to the crisis of faith in the legal system. They suggest that changes need to be made in several areas. First, law schools should emphasize legal ethics, rather than relegating them to a back corner of the curriculum. Zitrin and Langford also argue for clinical training programs for law students, similar to a medical student’s residency. Second, law firms must be held accountable for unethical behavior. The authors suggest monitoring firms’ ethical behavior in the same way financial activities are monitored. They also support mandatory public service work by law firms in order to provide legal assistance to under-represented communities. Third, Zitrin and Langford call on the legal system’s professional institutions to resist the pressure from large firms, insurance companies and others to water down ethics policies. Finally, the authors remind lawyers that they “must consider whether their actions will be to their credit as human beings.”
As we enter into the endless spin and counterspin of another Supreme Court nomination process, this book offers an interesting perspective on the law and its relation to our culture. It is worth reading.
Check the WRL catalog for The Moral Compass of the American Lawyer