Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Legal ethics lesson from Prof. Stephen Gillers

For those of you who may think that the behavior of the RIAA lawyers is acceptable because they are lawyers and just 'doing their jobs', I present this passage from a recent talk by renowned legal ethics expert Prof. Stephen Gillers:

Do not become skilled facilitators of whatever legal goal a paying client may desire. That's not what you envisioned for yourself when you answered the question on your law school application: "Why do you want to study law?"

Practice saying no. No has moral power. It can be liberating - for you and for your client.

I would have hesitated to give this advice if I did not have eminent precedent. Elihu Root, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Secretary of State under Theodore Roosevelt, said it better a century ago: "About half of the practice of a decent lawyer is telling would-be clients that they are damned fools and should stop."
Complete talk

Keywords: lawyer digital copyright law online internet law legal download upload peer to peer p2p file sharing filesharing music movies indie independent label freeculture creative commons pop/rock artists riaa independent mp3 cd favorite songs intellectual property portable music player


Unknown said...

After a rather interesting day that involved the cremation of an old lady who would have some rather scathing comments to make on the evil of lawyers and the absence of the virtue of honour in too many occupations; I would like to thank you for a link that shows that some people think otherwise.

I have been reading your blog for a while now; and i keep routing for the people who are on the short end of a stick handed to them by lawyers whose way of practising law, instead of being scholars of truth and justice, more resembles mercenaries than anything else. Please post more links about the ethics of your profession; even if only to demonstrate that most people who enter your profession have less than six legs.

May the blade that is personal honour strike down the perversions of greed before a judge in a court of law.

Randy said...

Unfortunately, many lawyers' first *thought* may be "How much money does this client have?"

Ethics doesn't enter into the equation.

raybeckerman said...

Randy, read the rest of Prof. Gillers' talk.

raybeckerman said...

This part, where he says:

And more recent are the words of Thomas Shaffer, an emeritus professor at Notre Dame Law School. Professor Shaffer often writes about legal ethics and religious values. He gave a speech at Vermont Law School some ten years ago. It became an article in the school’s law review. The title is Jews, Christians, Lawyers, and Money. It began:

“Years ago, when I was the resident guru in legal ethics at Washington and Lee University, in the little mountain town of Lexington, Virginia, a reporter from the daily newspaper in Roanoke asked me to identify the most serious ethical issue for American lawyers. My answer: ‘Money.’”

And Shaffer continued with references that resonate today:

“My purpose so far is to suggest to you that money is the number-one most serious moral problem for American lawyers and their clients. My moral observation is biblical: God destroyed the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in a rain of brimstone and fire. The Rabbis of the Mishnah wondered why. They did not decide, as many Christian preachers have decided, that God got upset because of the Sodomites’ sexual irregularities. It wasn’t sex. The reason for the destruction of Sodom was money.

“The Rabbis said the relevant text is in the Book of Leviticus. ‘Thy brother may live with thee.’ The wealthy Sodomites were not generous to one another; they did not take care of the poor…. Sodom was destroyed by God, in the view of the Jewish tradition, because ‘individual selfishness . . . had become an integral part of its communal culture.’

“The book of Leviticus also says: ‘You shall not put a stumbling block in the path of the blind.’ The sages of Judaism decided that the rule does not apply to those who harass blind people as much as it applies to those who misuse the law, who are dishonest, but legal, who, ‘through perfectly legal transactions,’ mistreat vulnerable people….”

Let this be our lesson, too.

Scott said...

It is a pathetic thing when a person is selfish with their own assets. But the damage they can do others is limited, unless they use their assets to justify employing the coercive power of a corrupt government to oppress the defenseless. Therein lies the moral hazard of Sodom and Gomorrah, of which the RIAA is ignorant.

Every revolution in recorded history has been a reaction to government corruption. Problem is, the messiahs who lead the revolutions usually entrench themselves at the top of the food chain, defending their privilege with oppression and death.

The RIAA battle is just one front in what is shaping up to be a revolution in America. I wish it were not so. Anyone who wants revolution hasn't learned from history.