To walk from lower LaSalle Street to the municipal and county courts on Washington between Clark and Dearborn, however, was to pass through a culture warp. From the outside, Chicago's Civic Center on its massive concrete plaza was no less imposing than the federal building. Inside was bedlam. The Civic Center was filled with everything that made Chicago such an exhilarating and alarming city-jostling, shouting, joking, cajoling, backslapping, backstabbing, bargaining, dealing, favors granted, grudges paid with interest, intimidation, bribery, conciliation, grand gestures, obscene remarks, and the occasional spontaneous act of generosity.
In the courtrooms, protocol was more or less observed, but the strain was often too much for the regulars. One young litigator from my firm never forgot his first appearance in municipal court. Full of himself, he stepped up when his case was called, and began, as we were taught to do in law school: "May it please the court, my name is Edward R. Lev and I represent the Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company of Chicago." The judge glared down at the unfortunate newcomer and remarked (to the delight of seasoned hands): "Well, bully for you!"
Another of my colleagues reported hearing the following exchange in open court one day while waiting for his own case to be heard:
"Counsel, the Court believes it smells alcohol on Counsel's breath."
"Is that so, your Honor? Well, Counsel believes he smells garlic on the Court's breath."The separate spheres of Chicago's legal universe generally kept to their own orbits. Large-firm attorneys had few dealings with small-time lawyers, and relatively little business in the county or municipal courts. However, Steven Lubet, who was a Chicago legal services lawyer in the 1970s, has recorded a rare occasion when the worlds of LaSalle Street and the Civic Center intersected in a dramatic way.
On the day in question, Lubet was waiting for his case to be called in one of the most disorderly courtrooms in the city. To his amazement, when the clerk bawled out the name of the next matter, a well-dressed lawyer approached the bench and said, "Your Honor, I would like to present Mr. Albert Jenner." Jenner was one of the city's most respected lawyers. He had been a member of the Warren Commission and minority counsel to the Senate committee investigating the Watergate affair. Lubet recalls: "Once Mr. Jenner's presence was announced, the entire courtroom suddenly metamorphosed. The muttering plaintiffs' bar fell silent. Clerks began answering inquiries from unrepresented defendants. The judge actually asked questions about the facts and the law.
. . . Furthermore, this effect lasted for the entire day, long after Mr. Jenner left."
Jenner's appearance (apparently as a favor to a friend) was like a visitation from another planet. Long afterwards, Lubet recounts, the regulars would talk of the time when "Bert Jenner handled a case in our courtroom."
Today's police officers, soldiers, and politicians (like their hunter- gatherer forerunners) flourish when certain qualities are in good supply among them: cunning, prowess, show of force, obedience, respect for hierarchy, readiness to take vengeance, and, above all, loyalty. The loyalty that is the bedrock of their relationships not only advances their common aims but keeps these dangerous people from harming one another. They are rightly suspicious of trading, for raiders' loyalty to each other and to their tasks must not be for sale.
Among traders, the central value is honesty, for the very good reason that commerce cannot be sustained for long without a good deal of trust. Traders prize such qualities as industriousness, thrift, inventiveness, tolerance, and ability to compromise. Unlike the clannish raiders, traders collaborate easily with strangers. They are rightly wary of force and deception (despite the tempting short-term benefits of such tactics), for trader prosperity in the long run depends on stable social conditions and reliable relationships.
Lawyers presented Jacobs with a puzzle, for they are associated with both raider and trader ethics, often switching from one role to another depending on the task. A certain tension is built into their official canons of ethics, e.g., "A lawyer is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system, and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice." In some legal contexts, an honesty-based ethic seems to prevail; in others, loyalty seems to be the highest value.
Jacobs noted with interest, though, that the culture of English barristers, historically at least, had a strong raider cast. Endowed with a virtual monopoly on the most raider-like legal activity-the planning and conduct of courtroom battles-barristers went to great lengths to shun trading. They did not discuss payment for their services, and would not sue to collect their fee. On the back of the barrister's gown there is still a little pocket that once enabled him to be paid without actually seeing or handling money. Unlike solicitors, barristers in former times chiefly belonged to social circles where it was considered disgraceful to be "in trade."
American conditions, however, were different from the beginning. Lawyers often had to be barristers and solicitors rolled into one. Abraham Lincoln's legal career, to take one famous example, involved him in the roles of zealous advocate one day and wise counsellor or peacemaker the next. Legal education in the United States still purports to be a foundation for all types of legal work. To Jacobs, it seemed that lawyers might be carriers of a valuable new survival trait, one that might be especially useful in complex modern societies where raiders and traders cannot simply go their symbiotic separate ways. In many respects, everyone's life is becoming complicated in the way that lawyers' lives have always been. So if lawyers have really mastered the art of recognizing the different ethical systems and adapting appropriately to either one, depending on the task at hand, they ought to be handy people to have around. In other words, where many people see lawyers as, to put it politely, ethically challenged, Jacobs thinks they might be ethically ambidextrous.
Jacobs thus becomes one of the few people since Louis D. Brandeis to propose that the legal profession might have something to teach other occupational groups about ethics. Her theory is so endearingly contrarian that one wants it to be true. But generalist lawyers, for whom the case is strongest, are in increasingly short supply. Two momentous changes long ago transformed the legal world that Lincoln knew: increased specialization, prompted by the rise of corporate firms at the turn of the century, and a large influx of new lawyers from relatively unassimilated ethnic groups at about the same time. The profession began to develop more of a separation between legal raiders and traders, but not along neat English lines. The split reflected the growing social stratification of the bar, the increasing division of labor between litigators and office lawyers, and the development of a wide range of specialized fields of practice.
Once the dust settled after the robber baron era, trader values were in clear ascendancy among the establishment lawyers who dominated early professional organizations and wrote the first codes of ethics. This was only to be expected, since they and their corporate clients stayed away from courtroom confrontation as much as possible, and concentrated mainly on what Jacobs would call trading activities. Many other segments of the practice were trader strongholds as well: small-town counsellors and specialized areas like conveyancing, estate planning, and most aspects of business law.
In a few areas, however, a number of factors combined to push raider values to the foreground. Litigation was a major specialty of many small firms and solo practitioners. Some low-status fields-plaintiffs' personal injury suits, domestic relations cases, and criminal defense work-revolved around raider fortresses. The clients in such matters, men and women in acute personal crises, were apt to regard the lawyer (and he was apt to see himself) as a champion, a special friend in need. Ethnic lawyers, even when engaged in trader-like activities, tended to regard themselves, and to be perceived by establishment lawyers, as outsiders. Whether fighting for their clients, or struggling for their own economic survival, they often had to operate in strange or hostile territory. They were at home in a milieu where favors were an important currency-where clients were friends, and friends were clients.
To elite lawyers, the legal world outside the financial district looked like a hotbed of sharp practice, hustling, ambulance-chasing, and generally deplorable ethical standards. Legal ethicists Thomas and Mary Shaffer, however, have convincingly demonstrated that two quite different ethical systems were operating side-by-side in the profession: an "old WASP" or "gentlemen's" ethic among small-town and establishment lawyers, and an "old world" ethic among lawyers from communities formed by immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Poland, and Eastern Europe. The "old world" ethic stressed loyalty to the client, even at some cost to the legal system; the "old WASP" ethic emphasized fidelity to legal institutions and their improvement, even at the cost of sometimes having to say no to clients.
The Shaffers' old world and old Wasp ethics correspond at many points with Jacobs' loyalty-based and honesty-based systems. What they add, however, are the dimensions of ethnicity and religion. The old WASP ethics were rooted in Protestant rectitude and a well-understood gentlemen's code. The ethics of old world Jews and Catholics reflected a worldview that placed clients ahead of institutions, and treated relationships as more important than rules. From the old world vantage point, the gentlemen's way often seemed harsh, flinty-hearted, even inhuman. To establishment lawyers, the immigrants' irreverence toward the law and its minions looked more like cynicism than a way of keeping the things of the world in their proper place. Human nature being what it is, ample support could be found in either camp for the most negative interpretations. Still, both ethical systems reflected a coherent vision of the virtuous life. And both contained the needs of corruption.
Many old school lawyers still chant the refrain. The "most serious threat to the legal profession" at the present time is "commercialism," former Solicitor General and Harvard Dean Erwin Griswold recently wrote. Albert Jenner, in his final public appearance, told a gathering of Chicago lawyers: "We need to reorient our thinking away from the legal marketplace and law firms as profit centers and revenue producers, and law as a business."
That careless use of "commercial" as an epithet is mischievous. Lawyers' stubborn refusal to recognize their affinities with other highly skilled, well-educated sellers of services seems to rest either on the arrogant assumption that businesspeople have no ethics, or the dubious proposition that businesspeople invariably place short-term profit maximization ahead of all other considerations. Those cramped ideas of business ethics, however, are widely recognized in the business world as signs of economic and moral pathology. Unfortunately, as lawyers increasingly accept that law is, among other things, a profit-making business, many seem to believe that means all ethical bets are off.
If Jane Jacobs is right, the high-minded lawyers who look down on the morals of the marketplace have got it exactly backward. There was a joker in the pack of "gentlemen's ethics." The English gentry were pluperfect raiders who had nothing but contempt for shopkeepers and merchants. Old school American lawyers seem to have unwittingly imported the old barristers' disdain for trade into a legal world where most lawyers, most of the time, regardless of social standing, are engaged in trading activities. In recent years, again unwittingly, trader-lawyers have permitted their everyday ethics to be infiltrated and undermined by raider values that should have been reserved for special occasions.
To see why that is a plausible diagnosis, one must distinguish, as many ethicists do, between the random individual corruption that flesh is heir to and structures of sin that create an ethos in which it is exceptionally difficult for any individual to walk the paths of righteousness. What Jacobs calls systemic corruption is more serious than plain old sin, for it poisons the entire moral ecology of a community. Jacobs' original contribution to the understanding of the sources of systemic corruption is her theory that one cause is inadvertent. With a series of arresting examples, she shows how the introduction of trader values in a raiding system, or vice versa, can often change things just enough to shatter the old system, to "literally de-moralize" it. The host system breaks down, losing its ability to discipline its members. Virtues convert to vices. Honesty and loyalty take a back seat to greed and force, as traders indulge extreme proclivities for acquisitiveness, and raider destructiveness runs amok.
Thus, in one of Jacobs' illustrations, it was disastrous for the hunter- gather Ik tribe of southern Uganda when they were forcibly resettled from hunting into farming. The Ik had no difficulty learning how to farm, but they were unable to make the mental adjustments necessary to sustain a trading way of life. Holding on to their old ways while adopting the new manner of making a living, they turned their force and cunning on each other.
Closer to home, we can observe more familiar forms of raider corruption when our police officers and public officials traffic in what should not be for sale. Chicago, in the years I practiced there, was governed by one of the great raiders of all time, Richard J. Daley. Chicagoans still argue over the personal probity of the late Mayor, but there is no doubt that the Democratic machine he headed, and the Cook County government- which was sometimes controlled by Republicans-were theme parks of raider culture gone bad. A federal investigation in the 1980s confirmed what every Chicago lawyer already knew or suspected: it was not only clerks, but certain judges, who were on the take. "Operation Greylord" made clear that the rot was deep and systemic.
Systemic corruption can wear pin stripes as well as polyester. As her prime example of what happens when traders take up raiding, Jacobs points to investment banking in the takeover era. The experience of large law firms in the same period provides a parallel illustration. Into the risk-averse worlds of corporate lawyers and bankers in the 1970s came a new generation of raiders, a mogul horde the likes of which had not been seen since the days when Jay Gould and other grandees of greed held sway. The corporate raiders' business was at first turned away by established firms. This was partly out of concern not to offend existing clients, but also because the raiders' tactics (such as using lawsuits for pure harassment) were so repugnant. That opened a legal niche to be quickly filled by younger, more aggressive, firms formed (as Lincoln Caplan points out in his chronicle of the rise of the Skadden firm) by Catholics, Jews, and non-Ivy Leaguers who had been snubbed by old-line firms.
The established firms soon found themselves forced to defend their clients against hostile takeovers. Eventually, most began to represent raiders as well. Louis Auchincloss, who retired from a Manhattan firm in 1987 to devote himself to fiction, observed sadly, "There was a time when you brought a suit only to right a wrong or collect an obligation. That all the finest firms [now bring takeover suits] is the single most corrosive factor in the ethics of the bar." Transactional lawyers (who used to be litigation-shy) joined forces with courtroom lawyers in the exciting new work. Together they hunted enterprises ripe for capture. They jointly plotted acquisitions and lawsuits. The workaholic Rambo was born.
Listen to how Lawrence Lederman, in his Tales from the Takeover Era, described what drew him from ordinary corporate law to takeover work: "Besides agility, attempting a takeover requires craft and the willingness to take risks." "Given a choice I preferred representing raiders. Besides enjoying the planning, as an outsider I was attracted to the entrepreneurial clients, interesting men with a sense of themselves who were trying to make their mark and didn't mind challenging and dismantling rigid corporate empires." "[L]ittle else in business galvanized people and brought them together as cohesively as organizing an attack that would require speed, surprise, and precision timing." "I found that all the mystery and excitement of sex, of breaking down resistance, of scoring and conquest, were associated with a takeover. Manliness was at stake, and measured." "[T]he takeover told of cunning and daring and the power to take what you wanted."
No sooner had the takeover frenzy begun to subside when the professional world was rocked by the savings and loan debacle. When, in 1986, federal agents began their investigation of Lincoln Federal Savings & Loan, the regulatory audit quickly escalated into a no-holds-barred adversarial battle. Lincoln's lawyers in the New York firm of Kaye, Scholer, Fierman, Hays & Handler fought the government's requests for information every step of the way. Government attorneys struck back in kind, filing a suit that charged Kaye, Scholer attorneys with lying to regulators, obstructing the investigation, and remaining passive while Charles Keating provided false information. The government's hardball tactics included an administrative order freezing the partnership's assets, a move that brought Kaye, Scholer quickly to its knees. The firm paid $41 million dollars for a no-fault settlement of the charges.
Shaken by that unprecedented settlement, lawyers began to debate such questions as whether Kaye,
Scholer attorneys had simply been helping their client in time-honored fashion to do what it wanted to do within limits of the law. Was a hostile regulatory audit the equivalent to litigation for ethical purposes? Did lawyers for publicly regulated clients have a special duty to the public? What ethical constraints should government attorneys observe? Should an administrative agency be allowed to freeze a firm's assets without showing any reason other than to force a settlement?
One question was seldom in the foreground: What had become of the old counsellors' dictum that "about half the practice of a decent lawyer consists in telling would-be clients that they are damned fools and should stop"? The author of a study of Wall Street firms in the 1950s had concluded that corporate lawyers then possessed enough independence to permit them to serve not only as advisors, but also as conscience to big business. The picture that emerged from a similar study published in 1988 was very different. Three out of four large-firm lawyers could not recollect a single instance in which they had ever even disagreed with a client. Their motto seemed to be: "The client never wants to be told he can't do what he wants to do; he wants to be told how to do it, and it is the lawyer's business to tell him how."
The takeover phenomenon and the savings and loan affair were only the most notorious in a series of developments that have drawn elite law firms out of the trader mode and away from "gentlemen's" ethics. The standard explanations in the legal community emphasize the fierce competition for business among law firms that began when clients started to shop around for the best deal, rather than maintaining their traditional ties with a single firm. Another part of the picture is that corporate clients themselves were undergoing fundamental changes, abandoning their traditional reluctance to sue one another. That led to an increase in the size and prestige of those raider enclaves, litigation departments, in large law firms. The freakish prosperity of the eighties permitted all sorts of excess in terms of salaries for beginners, overstaffing cases, and even interior decoration-as law firms, like the nobles of San Gimignano, tried to outdo each other in ostentation.
The binge of the eighties was succeeded by the hangover of the nineties, but, as Jacobs says, "Water over the dam carries debris." Many law firms, like many of the corporate clients they served, came under the control of people with a raider cast of mind. But the result was not the emergence of a new raider culture with its characteristic, coherent ethical understandings. The mingling of trader and raider ways, rather, seemed to draw lawyers into a moral quagmire. Old habits and attitudes unraveled, as raider ways spread to areas of professional life where they wrought havoc with relationships that depend on trust. The legal profession here and there began to resemble the Ik tribesmen, neither hunting nor farming, but preying on everyone in sight, including one another. Whence cometh their help?
The American Bar Association's current Model Rules, adopted in 1983, explicitly recognize that the moral tone of the legal profession depends primarily on a great web of informal understandings. Within the framework of a general obligation to represent the client zealously while remaining within the bounds of the law, a lawyer is free (but not required) to advise clients to comply with the spirit as well as the letter of the law. A lawyer is equally at liberty to press the letter to its limits. If the great web lets go, an individual lawyer is essentially in free fall.
Recent changes in the rules actually seem to go with the flow of systemic problems in the profession rather than helping to counter them. The 1983 Rules, for example, dropped almost all of the language of moral suasion that had permeated earlier codes of lawyer conduct. Just when lawyers were coming under exceptional ethical stress, the Model Rules eliminated such words as "right," "wrong," "good," "bad," "conscience," and "character," and replaced them with words like "prudent," "proper," "permitted." The latest version of the Rules also eliminated a series of helpful discussions that used to follow the cryptic canons. The Preamble to the 1969 Code had emphasized the importance of those "Ethical Considerations": "[T]hey are aspirational in character and represent the objectives toward which every member of the profession should strive. They constitute a body of principles upon which the lawyer can rely for guidance in many specific situations." The reason the Ethical Considerations were dropped, apparently, is the growing lack of consensus within the profession on what is ethical. In other words, the more moral confusion there is, the less guidance one can expect from formal codes.
As they stand, the Model Rules are certainly capacious enough to permit the kind of intelligent flexibility about roles that Jacobs admires and that generalist lawyers seem once to have possessed. But the current rules also lend themselves to a simpler "solution" of complex ethical problems: when in doubt, go with the traditional value of client loyalty. The most hotly debated issue in connection with the 1983 Rules, in fact, was whether a lawyer should be required, rather than merely permitted, to disclose information he has reason to believe necessary to prevent a client from causing death or serious bodily harm to another person. The proponents of mandatory disclosure lost out to the advocates of ironclad client confidentiality.
The apparent advance of the client loyalty ideal at the expense of the independent counsellor and court-officer roles may mask an even more serious problem: a de facto priority for the lawyer's own personal or political concerns. San Francisco attorney Alan Marks recently broke the taboo on discussing that problem, suggesting in the columns of the American Bar Association Journal that ethical rules are mere "showpieces" that leave the most severe ethical dilemmas untouched. The "real" dilemmas, Marks alleged, arise mostly from "the powerful compulsion of self-concern."
Is Marks right? Contingent fees do provide many people with access to justice, but sometimes the fee is so large that the lawyer becomes the real party in interest. Intelligent use of media opportunities can advance a client's cause, but many lawyers who seize them appear to be on personal ego trips. Corporate lawyers have complex loyalties, but many seem more concerned to satisfy the company managers who hire and fire lawyers than to protect the interests of scattered shareholder- owners.
Even more remarkable is the appearance of many lawyers who are openly operating on their own account. Often the new grandees portray themselves as rebels against the old notion that law is not a business. Ironically, lawyers' unapologetic embrace of self-interest may have been facilitated by the old mindset that equated "commercialism" and the "morals of the marketplace" with unbridled acquisitiveness. Now that lawyers are increasingly admitting that they want to run their "business as a business," many seem to suppose they are exempt from ordinary decent behavior. Or they imagine that business ethics are something like the full-bore adversarial tactics of criminal defense lawyers. They are like the teenage rat in the "Far Side" cartoon, whose response, when his mother tells him to clean up his room, is: "Criminy! It's supposed to be a rat hole!"
What got lost along the way was Lincoln's unpretentious, pragmatic attitude, rooted in the trader understanding that any business, including law business, thrives best on honesty and cooperation. And the companion understanding that a raider's deception for the sake of the task must be carefully limited to certain negotiation and litigation settings.
Academic debunkers of "professionalism," preoccupied with their "discovery" that high-minded lawyers have frequently failed to live up to their professed ideals, have not been helpful in the current period of turmoil. Friendly reminders of practitioners' shortcomings might once have served to puncture the balloon of smug professional self- satisfaction. But the professorial fire brigade has arrived with its pails of cold water just when the embers of professional pride need to be coaxed back to life. The scholarly orgy of debunking has obscured the importance of the facts that such ideals were professed at all, and that debate about them helped to focus the attention of a large, diverse, professional community on the question of what kind of life a lawyer ought to try to live. The old moralistic codes of ethics were often derided in the academy as self-serving attempts to fend off regulation.
But retelling the old stories and exploring their implications for new circumstances helped to orient and reinforce each lawyer's quest for a morally coherent professional life. Today's lawyers wander in an increasingly impersonal, bureaucratized legal world, where neither honesty-based nor loyalty-based systems seem to be operating very well. The families, communities, neighborhoods, and schools that once served as seedbeds and anchors for personal and professional virtues are themselves in considerable disarray. The great web of lawyer's informal understandings hangs in tatters. Today's raw recruits to the knowledge class seldom have a solid base of old world, old WASP, or any other culture to fall back on-and no coherent professional culture to embrace. Emancipated from the old ways, they soldier on, without examples, guidance, or reinforcement.
The legal ethos that is emerging is bound to be very different from a world in which most lawyers, most of the time, were at least oriented toward visions of lawyering that demanded a considerable degree of self- subordination-whether of the raider or trader variety. Just as sexual self-expression has few limits in a culture where chaste behavior is mocked, lawyers' self-interest is apt to run amok when anyone who places client or court above profit is branded a hypocrite or a chump. A lawyer who takes his duties to the court and the legal system seriously may well be at a disadvantage against a less scrupulous adversary. In such circumstances, should we be astonished that short-term self-interest often prevails?
The collision and disintegration of old raider and trader understandings have had personal as well as professional consequences. Transported from their communities of memory to membership in America's deracinated technocrat class, liberated from the networks of old world and old WASP values, many lawyers are now free, self-determining, and miserable. Like the displaced Machiguengas in Mario Vargas Llosa's The Storyteller, they've lost their myths about where they came from, who they are, and where they are going. They can no longer make sense of their lives. The stories they heard in law school about independence, public service, and professionalism don't match up with their everyday experiences. Rather than being ethically adaptable in Jacobs' flattering sense, many are merely ethically agile. The patron saint of these lone raiders is not honest, adaptable Abe Lincoln. Nor is it loyal, single- minded Perry Mason. It is the chameleon-like Talleyrand, the all-time champion of reinventing one's self.