Discusses ethical values of criminal defense attorneys

Essay by AskiarobertsUniversity, Bachelor's July 2005

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Zealous Advocacy,

and the Criminal Defense Attorney

Apart from being flattered, I am grateful to have been invited to address this distinguished gathering because it has caused me to focus on issues of ethics and morality that are daily companions of a practicing lawyer.

We are instructed by our codes of professional responsibility and told by professors, legal scholars, and mentors that we lawyers, as guardians of the law, play a vital role in the preservation of society, that we have an obligation to adhere to the highest standards of ethical and moral conduct, and that in our words and deeds we must promote respect for the law and our profession. We must deal candidly with others, and we should use our education, skills, and training to do public good. Finally, we are instructed to be zealous advocates on behalf of our clients.

I agree with all of this, and I have tried in 30-plus years of practice to honor these goals.

But I would be less than candid if I said it was easy. At times, there is some moral conflict because these roles do not always work in harmony. The zealous advocate often speaks and acts in ways that to many are morally questionable, less than candid, and do not promote respect for the law in the eyes of the public.

I believe the legal profession has done a poor job of giving guidance to its members on how to resolve the tension among these sometimes conflicting roles. And we have done a miserable job in explaining our role to the public. We have avoided dealing with difficult ethical issues by using generic words in our disciplinary rules and codes of responsibility and not dealing with the underlying problems. We act as if litigation is...