January 12, 2007
Law & Popular Culture: Two Works by UCLA Law Prof Michael Asimow
Available on SSRN:
- Popular Culture and the Adversarial System
- When the Lawyer Knows the Client is Guilty: David Mellinkoff's 'The Conscience of a Lawyer', Legal Ethics, Literature, and Popular Culture (with Cardozo Law Prof Richard Weisberg).
Popular Culture and the Adversarial System
by Michael Asimow
Abstract: This article addresses a puzzle: lawyers are the most distrusted and despised of all American professions, whereas the public has a much higher opinion of judges. Yet Americans believe strongly in the adversary system in which all the important procedural decisions during civil or criminal trials are made by lawyers. Even though people crave a justice system that discovers what really happened, they accept one that delivers only trial truth and procedural justice, not factual truth or substantive justice. This article explores various reasons why people might favor the adversary system despite their distrust of lawyers and their craving for truth, such as a belief in personal autonomy, a distrust of government officials, and a lack of knowledge about alternatives. However, the article suggests another possible reason: the influence of popular cultural portrayals of the trial process. Dating back to the days of history's greatest teacher of trial tactics - Perry Mason - media consumers have been taught that the adversary system delivers the truth. We can count on a great lawyer's cross-examination to reveal the identity of the real killer. Even though we hate and distrust lawyers, we want a good one by our side when we're in trouble or an aggressive one prosecuting the crooks. Countless films and television shows since Perry Mason's day have conveyed the same basic message, although in more sophisticated form. According to “cultivation theory,” people often extract information and form opinions based on fictitious stories told by pop culture media. Perhaps we derive our bone-deep belief in the adversary system from Perry Mason and the other great lawyers we've watched over the years.
When the Lawyer Knows the Client is Guilty: David Mellinkoff's 'The Conscience of a Lawyer', Legal Ethics, Literature, and Popular Culture
by Michael Asimow and Richard Weiberg
Abstract: David Mellinkoff's 1973 book 'The Conscience of a Lawyer' concerned a classic puzzle in legal ethics: what should a criminal defense lawyer do when the lawyer is certain that the client is factually guilty, but the client insists on an all-out defense? Mellinkoff focused on the Courvoisier case, a notorious English trial in 1840 in which defense counsel's tactics created an enormous public scandal. Legal ethicists have struggled with these issues ever since that time and they remain unresolved. This article draws a distinction between strong and weak adversarialism and explains how these two normative positions guide a lawyer's tactical decisionmaking in the certainly-guilty client situation. The article suggests that lawyers should have discretion to choose between the strong and weak positions, depending on context and their personal conscience. Both popular culture and great literature provide surprisingly interesting perspectives on the strong vs. weak adversarialism dilemma. Literature casts doubt on whether a lawyer can ever know with the requisite certainty whether a client is guilty. It presents numerous models of successful strong adversarialists and unsuccessful weak adversarialists. Few literary lawyers manage to be both skilled advocates and decent human beings. American popular culture, on the other hand, presents an emphatic answer to the question of what a lawyer with a certainly guilty client should do. According to pop culture, the lawyer's job is to betray the client to make sure the guilty criminal is convicted, dishonored, or killed. Pop culture's no-adversarialism model is a universe few lawyers would care to inhabit but which reflects popular views on the relationship of lawyering to truth.
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Law & Popular Culture: Two Works by UCLA Law Prof Michael Asimow: