Compulsion to Create
Gregory S. Shaffer
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This article ran in the Vacaville Reporter ( on April 17, 1997. It was published in a slightly different format.

"How Fast They Change Their Stripes"

The recent announcement of the partnership of two former U.S. attorneys opening a private law practice caused me to reflect on a lesson that I don't seem willing to accept -- lawyers are not fighters for justice they are hired advocates for whatever side pays them. I just wish it were different.

Before I continue, an acknowledgment that this is not the case for all lawyers, but is certainly the case for numerous lawyers. Furthermore, what I am concerned about is not illegal -- not even questionably so. In fact, the very issue that troubles me, is seen by many others as good old American ingenuity.

Imagine if a minister who had long fought local gambling in the community had a change of heart and now was a hired lobbyist for a huge firm trying to locate a new multi-million dollar casino in his or her hometown. Imagine if a long time crusader for the rights of children suddenly took a job to advocate for the end of all services to youth. Imagine if a heralded health-oriented chef suddenly formed a partnership with like-minded culinary masters to open an artery clogging greasy spoon restaurant.

In each cases you'd most likely be surprised.

But when two former U.S. attorneys decided to form a private law partnership, in part to defend the very people they previously prosecuted, they are admired for their entrepreneurial spirit and hailed as the best and brightest striking out on their own. Mind you, these are no ordinary attorneys. Each U.S. Attorney is in charge of one of ninety-four districts throughout the United States, they report directly to the U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and their appointments are confirmed by the Unites States Senate. These are said to be among the best prosecutors/litigators this country has to offer.

Recently a former U.S. attorney, a republican who served in the Bush Administration, and a democrat appointed by President Clinton who served in the same position until his resignation just last week, announced that they would form a partnership and open a law firm together.

Both had had their share of work overseeing cases that targeted white collar crime, this included a recent spate of local state politicians being sentenced to multi-year prison terms. So who better to defend the white collar criminals of the future than those who had prosecuted them in the past.

By all accounts both individuals are dedicated to the law. They are both seen as local community leaders and one local newspaper reporting on the new partnership referred to it as "one of the more glamorous parings in (the) .... legal community."

What they clearly are not are attorneys who see themselves as dedicated fighters for stopping crime and protecting the public against criminals. I mean they were, but now they are dedicated protectors for the rights of (alleged) criminal who are being attacked and harassed by the current U.S. attorney. The very post they had both previously held themselves.

And imagine what they can do with civil litigation. Who better to hire than those who know the limits of what the U.S. Attorney's Office can offer as a settlement? Who better to chip away at the armor of the prosecution, to know the best way to wear the prosecution down than those who were previously in a position to make staffing and funding decisions that caused the very vulnerabilities they will attack?

Don't get me wrong, I am in no way suggesting any decisions were previously made to diminish the capacity of the U.S. Attorney's Office. Quite the opposite. These two individuals headed a team of tenacious federal prosecutors. And now they will be tenacious private defense attorneys. It's just the facts of life.

When I see an American Lung Association executive director I respect him or her for not only for their ability to guide a large non-profit organization, but I respect them for the stance they take against the tobacco industry. When I see a lawyer practice the law I should judge them by their skills, brilliance, determination and court room acumen. But I have to remind myself to think twice before for respecting them for their efforts: to send a murderer to jail; to strip the license from an insurance salespersons who sells bogus policies to seniors; or to fight the claim of the crook who trips on your child's toys while robbing your home.

You never know, with a better offer or a simple career adjustment those same skills, brilliance, determination and court room acumen may be used to get the murderer off on a technicality, to reinstate the fraudulent insurance salesperson's license or to garner a huge cash settlement for an injured home intruder.

I guess I just need to remember, lawyers are not fighters for justice they are hired advocates for whatever side pays them. And, that's not going to change. Lets just make sure we respect lawyers for what they really do -- practice law, not practice justice.

Tell me what you think....

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