I’m an enthusiastic fan of the USA Network series “Suits,” which features the exploits, misdeeds and love affairs of attorneys in a high-end high-stakes Manhattan corporate law firm. One plot line this season involved another law firm initiating, through a client, a hostile takeover of a major pharmaceutical company in order to induce that company to come back into the law firm’s client fold. The resulting court battle included a fake memo that one attorney tricked another lawyer into submitting into evidence. While such tactics violate several Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys, they do make for juicy television. The court hearings are always short, fiery, and filled with attorneys making incendiary and profanity-laced remarks, in front of the judge, regarding the opposing attorneys.
Watching “Suits” at the end of a long day is a lot of fun! I’ve happily seen every episode of this series, all seven seasons. But the lawyers’ escapades, as corporate counsel, certainly don’t remotely resemble the business law practice in our law firm, or I would guess, any law firm. And the reason why is the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Rules of Professional Conduct are rules governing attorneys’ ethical behavior. These ethical rules actually make a huge difference in most attorneys’ actions and decision-making on virtually a daily basis. Lawyers ignore these rules at their own peril, because the rules are enforced by the Washington State Bar Association. Violations of the rules can result in a variety of disciplinary actions against an attorney, including revocation of the attorney’s license to practice.
The Rules of Professional Conduct provide insight to the real reason behind a codified set of ethical principles. The Rules state:
The Rules of Professional Conduct point the way to the aspiring lawyer and provide standards by which to judge the transgressor. Each lawyer must find within his or her own conscience the touchstone against which to test the extent to which his or her actions should rise above minimum standards. But in the last analysis it is the desire for the respect and confidence of the members of the legal profession and the society which the lawyer serves that should provide to a lawyer the incentive for the highest possible degree of ethical conduct. The possible loss of that respect and confidence is the ultimate sanction. So long as its practitioners are guided by these principles, the law will continue to be a noble profession. This is its greatness and its strength, which permit of no compromise.
Lawyers who advise their business clients to pursue lawsuits merely for the lawyers’ personal gain, issue fake memorandums, engage in trickery toward other lawyers, and swear during court proceedings might be highly entertaining, but wouldn’t last long in the real world. Thank goodness.
Photo credit: Jonathan Mueller on Flickr