Lawyers are sworn officers of the courts of their respective states and federal jurisdictions. They take a solemn oath. They take that oath because as citizens we give them substantial power as officers of the court. As Spiderman (not a lawyer) reminds us, with great power comes great responsibility.
In normal times it is hard enough for lawyers to balance all the interests surrounding them—professional, personal, political. In abnormal and critical times—like these—lawyers may be pushed to pick a lane. The onerous professional demands, as embodied in the oath, may be in conflict with other interests, including ambition, success and ideology.
In previous posts, I’ve mentioned a few examples of times in which lawyers chose poorly. One is the case of attorneys involved in Watergate, almost two dozen of whom ended up being punished and sanctioned. Another is Hans Frank, a brilliant attorney known as Hitler’s Lawyer. There are many other infamous examples.
The number of lawyers involved in current events, as principals or as advocates, is growing exponentially. It will only expand as dark matters surrounding the president get deeper and more serious. Please keep this in mind as this drama unfolds.
Here is an example of an oath, one taken by attorneys in the State of Washington:
OATH OF ATTORNEY
I do solemnly declare:
I am fully subject to the laws of the State of Washington and the laws of the United States and will abide by the same.
I will support the constitution of the State of Washington and the constitution of the United States.
I will abide by the Rules of Professional Conduct approved by the Supreme Court of the State of Washington.
I will maintain the respect due to the courts of justice and judicial officers.
I will not counsel, or maintain any suit, or proceeding, which shall appear to me to be unjust, or any defense except as I believe to be honestly debatable under the law, unless it is in defense of a person charged with a public offense. I will employ for the purpose of maintaining the causes confided to me only those means consistent with truth and honor. I will never seek to mislead the judge or jury by any artifice or false statement.
I will maintain the confidence and preserve inviolate the secrets of my client, and will accept no compensation in connection with the business of my client unless this compensation is from or with the knowledge and approval of the client or with the approval of the court.
I will abstain from all offensive personalities, and advance no fact prejudicial to the honor or reputation of a party or witness unless required by the justice of the cause with which I am charged.
I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed, or delay unjustly the cause of any person.