Friday, October 27, 2017

Legal Ethics as Shown in Movies and Television Shows

Legal Ethics Panel ABA-SIL MiamiThe Fall Meeting of the American Bar Association Section of International Law concludes today in Miami. Panels on this last day included a popular legal ethics program. Using short video clips from a variety of movies and television shows, the panel discussed how particular ethical situations would be handled under the ethics rules of the United States, Mexico, and Peru. The speakers were Robert A. Anguiera (Robert A. Anguira P.A., Miami); Eduardo Benevides (Berninzon & Benavides Abogados, Lima Peru); and Andres Nieto (Van Wobeser y Sierra S.C., Mexico City); and Robert J. Misey, Jr. (Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren S.C., Chicago and Milwaukee).

Movie and television clips included:

  • The Rainmaker, where Matt Damon plays Rudy Baylor, a rookie lawyer in over his head on a high-profile case. Rule 1.1 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct requires a lawyer to "provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation."
  • Primal Fear, in which Richard Gear plays an attorney who changes the label on a VHS tape that has potential use as evidence in the case he's working on. Rule 3.4 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct provides that a lawyer "shall not alter or conceal material having evidentiary value."
  • Suits, a television show in which Lewis, a junior partner, is caught by opposing counsel attempting to bribe a potential witness. Opposing counsel then uses this attempted bribe to force a favorable settlement for his client. The senior partners appear to condone the proposed settlement. The clip of the television show considered ethical responsibilities to partners, managers, and supervisory lawyers. The applicable rules from the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct included: (1) Rule 5.1(a), which provides that "A partner in a law firm, and a lawyer who individually or together with other lawyers possesses comparable managerial authority in a law firm, shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the firm has in effect measures giving reasonable assurance that all lawyers in the firm conform to the Rules of Professional Conduct."; (2) Rule 5.2(a), which provides  that "A lawyer is bound by the Rules of Professional Conduct notwithstanding that the lawyer acted at the direction of another person."; and (3) Rule 8.3(a), which provides that "A lawyer who knows that another lawyer has committed a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects, shall inform the appropriate professional authority."
  • Crazy Like a Fox, a show involving a man wrongly accused of murdering his wife (who had not actually been killed). Because he served 12 years for his time for that crime, the man goes to a lawyer to ask whether he would get a "freebie" on a future crime (killing his wife for real this time).  Applicable rules from the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduce included Rule 1.6(b), which provides in part that "A lawyer may reveal information relating to the representation of a client to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary: (1) to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm; or (2) to prevent the client from committing a crime or fraud that is reasonably certain to result in substantial injury to the financial interests or property of another and in furtherance of which the client has used or is using the lawyer's services."
  • L.A. Law, in an episode where a murderer confesses to an attorney while confirming the existence of attorney-client privilege so that the attorney would be unable to testify against him, and Anatomy of a Murder, his which a lawyer coaches a defendant on the testimony he should give to excuse a murder. Rule 3.4(b) of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct provides in part that a lawyer shall not "counsel or assist a witness to testify falsely" and Rule 3.3(a)(3) provides in part that a lawyer shall not knowingly "offer evidence that the lawyer knows to be false."
  • The Client, in which a young boy who witnessed the suicide of a mafia lawyer hires an attorney (Susan Sarandon) to protect him when the District Attorney tries to use him to take down a mafia family. The boy only has a dollar to pay his lawyer. Rule 1.5(a) of the Model Rule provides in part that a fee has to be reasonable: "A lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an unreasonable fee or an unreasonable amount for expenses." The discussion question was whether a small fee could be an unreasonable fee.
  • The Verdict, in which a lawyer (Paul Newman) fails to inform his client of a settlement offer (and violated Rule 1.4 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct).
  • El Secreto de Sus Ojos (The Secret of Your Eyes), a movie from Argentina, in which a retired legal counselor writes a novel hoping to find closure for one of his past unresolved homicide cases.

After presenting each clip and the applicable U.S. Model Rule, lawyers from Mexico and Peru compared the situation under the ethical rules in their countries. Watching the clips was an enjoyable way to consider the ethical rules applicable to each situation presented.


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