What Cutting Ethical Corners Says About You As A Lawyer

Ah, those silly bar ethics rules. Like the ones that prohibit lawyers from dubbing their practice “Smith & Associates” when the firm is comprised of just one person. Recall, that Sonya Sotomayor ran afoul of these rules and it came back to bite her during her confirmation hearings.

As it turned out, Sotomayor’s ethics lapse was insignificant in the context of her otherwise pristine record. But more often than not, cutting ethics corners may be indicative of larger ethical deficiencies. For example, Mark Bennett has been reporting on one “and associates” solo at Defending People who continues to dig a deeper hole for his client with prejudicial comments in the media, and is playing fast and loose with conflict-of-interest rules by representing three co-defendants in a gang-rape case.  Another “and associates” lawyer featured at Brian Tannebaum’s My Law License was also suspended – not so merely because a solo lawyer purported to be a law firm of three attorneys, but also because he was helping himself to client trust accounts.

I don’t know whether these lawyers started small by testing less significant ethics boundaries and just continued to see how far they could push before they got caught. More likely, they never understood or took their ethics obligations seriously and neither realized nor cared how actions like stealing from a trust account or violating the duty of undivided loyalty violate their professional responsibilities.

If you don’t like a silly disciplinary rule, then blog about how stupid it is or try to change it. But don’t ever violate it — because once you do, who knows what else you might do?