May 28, 2009

Clients, not Causes?

There's an interesting discussion happening around the "reply-all" hubbub at the LA-based Quin Emanuel law firm.

You can read the short version over at the ABA Journal, or follow the discussion at ATL. The gist is that the firm won a federal court trademark case for the Washington Redskins. In response to the firm-wide email from a partner announcing the victory, an associate "replied to all," questioning the morality of the representation in the first place.

One of the more interesting aspects of the discussion is the matter of a young lawyer stepping in to provide a "moral viewpoint" about a particular representation. Most of the discussion focuses on the manner and timing of both the response and the eventual fallout. But I find this statement, from a Quin partner, most provocative:

"We represent clients, not causes." According to the Journal, the partner said that the firm would have been happy to win the case for the opposing party, had it been hired to do so.

The partner is certainly right about "clients, not causes" in a very important sense. Yet that can't be the whole story, the only response: we can't shut down a conversation about the morality of a particular course of action by stating "that's what we were hired to do."

What role should a young associate-- would it be different for a partner?-- take in providing a moral check on a firm's activities? Fun stuff.

We're talking about it over at Cross & Gavel, too.

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