I recently had a situation where I found myself being asked to do something that I was not sure was in the person’s best interest. The person had every right to pursue the path. There was nothing ethically wrong with me assisting them in the pursuit, however the probability of the outcome being in the person’s best interest was low. I explained the probabilities to the person and they still wanted to pursue the path. I would note that the person was very emotional about the situation and it was hard to tell if their thinking was primarily driven by emotion or reason.
I reviewed the situation with a close friend that I often discuss business with. He is not an attorney, but he is a pure capitalist of the Vanderbilt vein. He often gives me blunt and straight forward business advice. So I speak to my friend about the situation. I give him general information in the form of an analogy so that he can have enough information to ascertain the positions and dilemma in the quandary, but not enough information for him to know the entire story or to compromise the attorney client privilege.
Mr. Capitalist was straight forward in his responses. “Does the client have the money to pay for your services?”
I responded “yes”.
He continued “Does the client fully understand the possible negative consequences?”
I respond “I explained it to him on at least two occasions and he appears to understand the risk”.
He next asked “Is there any ethical or legal prohibition preventing you from doing what he is asking?”
I respond “No”.
Then he concludes “Well take the money and get to work before he realizes that he is making a grave error!”
I paused. Then I responded, “I just do not feel as if this is the most prudent path.”
Mr. Capitalist appeared somewhat frustrated and exhorted ” Well you are not in business to feel good. Business is about making money.”
We moved on to other topics, however the subject and Mr. Capitalist’s statements stayed in the forefront of my mind.
Ultimately, I talked to the client one additional time and further explained my concerns about his chosen path and although he was ready to proceed and the funds were available for payment I told him to think it over for a couple of days. I then proceeded to prepare a retainer agreement and a corresponding addendum (disclaimer) for him to sign indicating that I fully explained to him all of the possible negative consequences and the probability of one or more of those negative consequences resulting from the clients desired path.
The entire ordeal made me think a lot about my new vocation as a criminal defense attorney. I fully understand that I have transitioned from an employee to a business man (a “Business Man” in the business of law). So how do I prioritize the need and desire to make money with ultimate desire to feel as if I am helping people? This question is easily answered when a client is asking me to engage in unethical or illegal conduct the answer is simply “NO”. However, how do you balance these competing interest when the client is just making a questionable decision. If I owned a restaurant and someone came in and ordered something that would be disgusting to most of the world and may turn their stomach, I can easily say “Well that is what they ordered.” However, I am not a restaurateur and I work in a field where people can lose their liberty for a long period of time. Therefore, simply saying “Well that is what they ordered” does not cut it.
Just a few random thoughts on ethics.