Thursday, March 29, 2018


PMT: I'm a lawyer. Here's why I wouldn't work for Donald Trump

The press has been reporting on the surprisingly small number of lawyers working for Donald Trump on his many legal challenges-- and the correspondingly large number of lawyers who have turned him down. 

One reason many lawyers have declined the President as a client--and this is legit--is because they have a conflict. A lawyer can't ethically represent one client who is involved in a criminal investigation as target or witness and then take on a second client involved in the same actions. That's because the interests of those two clients may well come into conflict, since they each have an incentive to work with the government to pursue the other. Because the Trump Administration has basically been the Full Employment Act for White Collar Defense Lawyers of 2018, a lot of lawyers are already representing folks in Trump's orbit.

That's not the only reason lawyers are turning Trump down.

Another reason may be related to Trump's infamous practice of not paying (and not fully paying) people who work for him. Why bust your butt for an ungrateful jerk who stiffs you? 

Then there is the client himself, who doesn't seem to take legal counseling very well. As in other areas, he seems to trust his own gut rather than the wisdom of his advisors, and that will give a criminal defense lawyer real indigestion.

Finally, there is something else... and it is the reason that I would not represent Trump. After all, I have no conflicts, I pretty much only do pro bono work, and I have some experience with reticent clients.

There is a myth that most lawyers are amoral-- that is, that they accept whatever client walks through the door with enough money to pay the fees. Certainly, some lawyers (and many big firms) are that way. But most of the lawyers I know well, and all of those that I respect, are not like that.  There is an over-arching principle that informs what they do, that unites them with the clients they represent most zealously and guides them as they build their vocation. Public defenders take their clients as they are, because they believe in their broader role in the system. Others are able to rely on their own values as they look at a case and decide whether they will take it.  There is a voice in their head that tells them where the line is that divides what they will do and what they simply will not do. And, it seems, Trump stands on the far side of that line for many who are most skilled at the area of law he finds himself immersed in.

What is it about Trump that puts him on the far side of that line? I think it comes back to arrogance and power. It is very hard to work for someone who has power and arrogance, and often those people make those around them complicit not only in what they do but the wrong that they do. When the long view becomes clear, I think that will be part of history's portrait of Mr. Donald J. Trump.

Nice post, Mark. Very refreshing and timely.
All good points.

I am not a lawyer--but I might work for Trump for a couple or three or four reasons:

1. the naive belief that all clients deserve representation (even if they are arrogant jackholes who may never pay or praise their highly skilled practitioners)

2. for the challenge (Bob Mueller and team seem pretty damn formidable; if you beat these guys you pretty much beat the best) and, related, to make sure the immense power of the government does not crush an individual (albeit a rich and quasi-powerful one). And, again related, the American people elected a president. I might defend him on those grounds, seeing myself as the ultimate public defender defending the people's choice for government, ensuring that no special prosecutor speaking an esoteric language finds a back door to nullify a popular election.

But then again I am a registered contrarian.
WF-- On this one really, both sides are the government, which is an odd situation. As for "the challenge"-- it is true that Mueller's crew seems to have won the fantasy league draft.
It is never good when the lawyers need to hire lawyers. They are also having trouble finding interns. Again, it is too costly to work in "this" West Wing because you may need to hire counsel.

Hi Mark. Quick response to your important point. Yes. Both sides are the government (in fact), but, in this case, the system seems to be weighted against the President using the power of his office to defend himself against the government (isn't he required to use private counsel--NOT WH counsel or DOJ attorneys?). And I believe the potential indictment would read: "The United States of America against Donald Trump." So, in very real ways, in this situation (just like in prior similar cases of special prosecutors investigating previous presidents) the POTUS is treated more like a citizen accused than he is the head of the executive branch clothed in great power.
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