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Don't Look for Absolution in the Legal Profession

The Careerist

February 2, 2014

News items on our radar for the week:

Shattered_Glass_movie1. The legal profession is not the Church. How much penance does an established liar have to do before he can be admitted into the sacred halls of law practice? In Stephen Glass's case, the answer is not enough. His bid to become a lawyer has come to a sad end. The California Supreme Court has denied his request to be admitted to the bar.

You might remember that Glass, a one-time wunderkind in the world of journalism, was disgraced when he was found to have invented facts and events in dozens of articles he wrote for The New Republic and other publications. (His story was made into a terrific movie, Shattered Glass, starring Hayden Christensen, at right.)

The Court recounts all his sins and omissions in its opinion (which reads like a juicy novel). Despite his efforts to redeem himself, the court was not convinced, finding Glass's efforts inadequate and self-serving.

I thought the court might have shown a bit more mercy. Glass was only in his mid-twenties when he committed his acts of dishonesty—though they were doozies. Personally, I think if Glass wants to be a lawyer this badly—he has been trying to gain bar admission for 10 years, first in New York, then in California—he should get the chance. I mean, how many people have this kind of passion to be a lawyer?

NYU law professor Stephen Gillers has an interesting take on the case. “What makes the Glass case so intriguing to lawyers and law students is frankly the journalism backdrop,” Gillers tells the New York Times. “The question is, Are we prepared to say as lawyers that a man who is no longer considered moral enough to be a journalist is moral enough to be a lawyer? If people flame out in journalism because of dishonesty, is the law open to them? I think the answer is no.”

Of course, Gillers doesn't address the corollary: If you flame out in law because of dishonesty, is journalism open to you?

But I have a better suggestion for anyone in Glass's shoes: business school. You'll recall that Mathew Martoma, the ex-SAC Capital trader who's currently on trial for insider trading, managed to get into Stanford B-School, even after getting kicked out of Harvard Law School for falsifying his transcript.

2. Asian American to lead WASP institution. Old-line, Main Line Philadelphia firm Dilworth Paxson has a new CEO and co chairman: Ajay Raju. "It is amazing news that a member of an immigrant family from India, who grew up playing football in Bucks County, could lead a historically white-shoe law firm like Dilworth," says Xerox GC Don Liu, a friend of Raju's. Liu also notes that Raju joins a very select, tiny club of Asian Americans who have led major major firms (the others are Morgan Chu of Irell & Manella and William Lee of Wilmer).

3. High-society British maiden loses virginity to Yank. Slaughter and May hires its first lateral partner—and (gasp) it is an American lawyer. John Moore, the former cohead of Morrison & Foerster’s China capital markets practice, is joining the Cravath, Swaine & Moore of the U.K. (or is Cravath the American Slaughters?) in Hong Kong. (Of course, despite its pristine image, Cravath lost its lateral partner virginity some time ago.) (The Asian Lawyer)

 E-mail: vchen@alm.com     Twitter: https://twitter.com/lawcareerist



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The Glass case is fascinating to me.

I have to wonder whether there was any threshold that Glass could have met which would have satisfied the Court that he had "turned over a new leaf". If not - is that really the test we should be applying - that past wrongs will be held against you no matter what?

Or is it the case that our naturally risk averse profession will err (perhaps prudently) on the side of public protection in some cases.

If so - doesn't the question become - why are some cases of misconduct apparently forgivable, but not others?

In all - the case (and those like it) raise fundamental questions about what kind of profession we are creating.

Stephen Glass was one of the first text book cases in law school in professional responsibility class. The class was asked to give their opinion (oddly, noone seemed to be familiar with the story from the film), and one girl went on and on about how he is not fit to be a lawyer. I recall telling the guy sitting next to me, "I'd like to see where she is at in her career in 10 years from now.. I think the lady doth protest too much... those are the kinds that end up in the biggest scandals of all." Now I learn the NYT's reported that even Marty Peretz, the publisher of the The New Republic while Glass carried on his shenanigans, testified on Glass' behalf before the California board -- even though Glass caused the biggest scandal in the magazine's history. Hey, if Marty Peretz says enough is enough, and he was the one who risked losing more than anyone, I think that is enough said. I think there are far worse matters the ethics committee should be concerned with -- such as crimes committed as a lawyer like a US president who lies under oath and a NY governor who takes a high-end prostitute cross state lines. Yeah, turn to B-school just like Chicago's Loren Friedman.

Excellent commentary to start the week...

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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