Is my client a good person?

Interesting contradiction:

When fellow law students engage in public interest work, they are concerned with the morality of their clients – with whether they are good people or not.  They are very careful to look out for clients who are in the situation of needing Public Benefits or a Public Defender through some fault of their own.  That is to say:  they are concerned that they will be helping someone who is poor because that person is lazy, “bad,” or dumb.

When fellow law students work at a law firm for paying clients, concerns with the morality of clients disappears.  Judgment is withheld.  If a paying client has some bad qualities, they’re endearing or a subject for amusement, rather than a reason the client should not be helped.

I notice this contradiction in non-lawyers and law students as well.  When telling friends and family about my work in Public Benefits, they ask, “Don’t a lot of those people seem like they are just abusing the system?”  When I tell them about my work at a Public Defender’s Office, they ask, “But, how can you defend someone who is guilty?”  If, however, I mention the possibility of working at a law firm, they say, “Oh, wow!”

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1 Comment

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One response to “Is my client a good person?

  1. nachoswithcocoa

    Isn’t this because the vast majority of work that a law firm handles is civil, so there is no guilty party (just a liable one, and even then only if the work is contentious)?

    Further, the clients of a law firm are mostly companies, and so are incapable of being lazy or (conventionally) dumb. The clients can be ‘bad’, and this possibility is not forgotten by myself or by people I talk to when they talk about law firms. Corporate social responsibility and ethics are at very least acknowledged as an issue.

    Finally, it is difficult to say that a paying client is ‘abusing’ a system – because they aren’t getting anything for free.

    I don’t think morals are completely thrown out at the door to private sector law!

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