Professional Responsibility Ethics ABA Model Rules on Professional Conduct Essay

Pages: 6 (1960 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Business - Law

Firm -- Lawyers Doing the Devil's Business

How accurate are the movies when it comes to portraying the way in which law firms and lawyers behave -- vis-a-vis ethics -- in various legal situations? A fair answer to that question -- and a reasonably evenhanded generalization -- is that since art is an exaggeration of real life, the way in which lawyers are presented in film tends toward extreme, severe, even ruthlessly callus. An example of a highly entertaining and yet off-the-legal-charts depiction of a law firm is presented in the film "The Firm," adapted from John Grisham's best-selling novel of the same title. This paper will review and analyze specific examples of lawyers' ethical lapses that are blatant violations of the American Bar Association's (ABA) Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

Certainly, The Firm (novel and movie) transcends the classic court case -- an attorney and his or her client battling against an aggressive prosecutor; or an attorney struggling to save the life of an client who has been falsely accused by a third party with devious motives -- and moves into a high-energy crime thriller. Still, there are ample instances in the book and the film to examine in terms of an investigation into the proper conduct of a lawyer -- and a law firm.

Violations of ABA's Model Rules of Professional Conduct in The Firm

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UCLA Law Professor Michael Asimow ("Embodiment of Evil: Law Firms in The Movies") asserts that lawyers in movies are portrayed as "greedy, heartless, predatory, unethical and often buffoonish or incompetent" (Asimow, 2001, p. 2). That having been said, Asimow goes on to explain that "in several respects" the dark treatment lawyers receive in the movies "is generally accurate" (Asimow, p. 3). Moreover, the depiction of law firms' "billing improprieties" and "hardball litigation tactics seem "justified" according to Asimow (p. 3).

Essay on Professional Responsibility Ethics ABA Model Rules on Professional Conduct Assignment

On page 16 of his essay, Asimow dips into Grisham's films, saying Grisham (who is also an attorney) "has made a very profitable business of trashing law firms"; about the only "decent human beings and ethical lawyers to be found" in Grisham's books are pro bono lawyers, legal service lawyers, and "young lawyers just entering the profession who have yet to be tainted by it." That last description seems perfect for Mitch McDeere, who is just out of Harvard Law School and is seduced into joining The Firm by a lavish offer that includes a shiny new car, a classy home, a handsome salary and promises of more perks and bonuses if he plays ball with The Firm's many secretive, shadowy guidelines.

On page 52 of the novel, McDeere is tutored in the matter of billing clients by his supervisor, Avery Tolar. "Bonuses can be earned by associates for exorbitant billing" (Grisham, 52) McDeere is told. Narrator Grisham (54) goes on:

"He could bill twelve hours each day, every day, regardless of how many hours he actually worked. Twelve a day, five days a week, at three hundred an hour, for fifty weeks. Nine hundred thousand dollars! In billable time!"

And just in case McDeere still doesn't get it -- that the Memphis law firm he has just signed on to work for, Bendini, Lambert & Locke, totally disregard ethical and legal considerations vis-a-vis billing clients -- Lamar Quin explains with gusto and specificity:

"Most good lawyers can work eight or nine hours a day and bill twelve. It's called padding. It's not exactly fair to the client, but it's something everybody does. The great firms have been built by padding files. It's the name of the game" (Grisham, 58).

"Sounds unethical," McDeere chimes in, to which Quin replies, "A lot of things are unethical…some of the most unethical people I've met have been my own clients" (Grisham, 58).

"Do they teach it?" The young, idealistic and impressionable McDeere asks on page 58. "No. You just sort of learn it," Quin answers. "…After you've been with us a year you'll know how to work ten hours and bill twice that much. It's sort of a sixth sense lawyers acquire" (Grisham, 58).

The Model Rules of Professional Conduct ("Client-Lawyer Relationship") clearly stipulate that falsifying the actual hours spend on a client's legal matters is prohibited, unprofessional and unethical. To wit, Rule 1.5 Fees:

"(a) A lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an unreasonable fee or an unreasonable amount of expenses." The factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of a fee include the following: (1) the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of questions involved; (2) the likelihood…that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer; (3) the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services; (4) the amount involved and the results obtained; (5) the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances; (6) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client…"

The fee that the client is charged, Rule 1.5 continues, should be based on an agreement (b) "communicated to the client, preferably in writing…" before the launch of the legal service by the lawyer, or within a "reasonable time" after the representation has commenced. Moreover, to be an ethical professional, the lawyer should honestly represent the actual hours during which services were performed. That said, the ABA has issued Formal Ethics Opinion 93-379 (DePree, et al., 1994) which acknowledged "…that pressure on lawyers to bill a minimum number of hours and on law firms to maintain or improve profits" has led the public to the perception that law firms embrace "unreasonable billing practices." In an article (The CPA Journal) explaining Formal Ethics Opinion 93-379 ("Billing for Professional Fees, Disbursements and Other Expenses"), DePree points out that the standards issued in Rule 1.5 did not go far enough, allowing clients limited and "frequently confusing" access to the actual time the lawyer spent on the case.

In the very process of tutoring McDeere on how the billing scam works, Quin and Tolar are in clear violation of Rule 5.1 ("Responsibility of Partners, Managers, and Supervisory Lawyers"). To wit, Quin (Grisham, 58-59) explains that lawyers working with Bendini, Lambert & Locke are "nothing but hired guns…Mouthpieces for sale to the highest bidder, available to anybody, any crook, any sleazebag with enough money to pay our outrageous fees."

Meanwhile, Rule 5.1 states that (a) "A partner in a law firm" shall make an effort to assure that "all lawyers in the firm conform to the Rules of Professional Conduct" and "(c) A lawyer shall be responsible for another lawyer's violation" of the rules if "(1) the lawyer orders or, with knowledge of the specific conduct, ratifies the conduct involved" or "(2) if the lawyer is a partner…and knows of the [unethical] conduct at a time when its consequences can be avoided or mitigated but fails to take reasonable remedial action" (ABA Rules of Professional Conduct).

McDeere: "You shouldn't be telling me this at this stage of my career" (Grisham, 59).

Quin: "The money makes up for it. It's amazing how much drudgery you can endure at two hundred thousand a year."

By the very fact that The Firm is a front for organized crime, and the money earned is connected to criminal behavior, The Firm is in violation of Rule 7.1 ("Communications Concerning A Lawyer's Services"): "A Lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer's services." That communication is indeed false or misleading if it contains "a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading."

McDeere and his colleagues in The Firm are all guilty of violating Rule 8.3, "Reporting Professional Misconduct." In short, Rule 8.3 states that "(a) A lawyer who knows that another lawyer has committed a violation" of the Rules of Professional Conduct "that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects, shall inform the appropriate professional authority."

And indeed, based on the unprofessional behavior and corrupt business values revealed thus far in This paper the lawyers who work for Bendini, Lambert & Locke all are in violation of Rule 8.4 ("Misconduct"). To wit, it is misconduct for a lawyer to "(a) violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do so, or do so through the acts of another." In addition, under Rule 8.4 it is "misconduct" for a lawyer (such as those in The Firm) to "(b) commit a criminal act…" or "(c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation" or "(d) engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice." Surely, even beyond billing fraud, murder is a criminal act.

Background: Why Grisham (and others) Portray Lawyers Negatively

Meantime, in explaining the roots of the problem of lawyer misbehavior, journalist Verlyn Klinkenborg writes in The New Republic that money, not ethics or justice, is the driver for… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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