Acting for b*stards

November 14, 2013

The Survivalist considers the ethics of working for dodgy clients

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The Survivalist was talking to a mate the other day who mentioned in passing that he had acted for the founder of a payday lender.

If for some reason you have been holidaying on Pluto for the last couple of years and have no idea what a payday lender is, here goes. It’s a company which specifically targets the poorest and most vulnerable members of society and loans them money on a short-term basis at interest rates which annualise to thousands of percentage points.

Now, the Survivalist is an old-fashioned kind of guy. He tends to think that the kind of pondlife that run this kind of unsocial enterprise will be first up against the wall when the Apocalypse comes. But he thought he would keep an open mind.

“Oh yeah?” he said, casually. “What’s he like?”

“Oh, he’s a complete c*nt,” said the lawyer mate, matter-of-factly.

This is where the Survivalist shows his inability to swim peacefully in the brackish waters of global capitalism. “Why do you act for him, then?” quoth he, thickly.

The mate looked at him as if he had suggested he prance out naked but for a pink feather boa at half-time one Saturday afternoon at the Etihad.

“He’s a client…” he spluttered finally.

Now, the Survivalist can understand, from a jurisprudential point of view, that everyone deserves representation, whether they be child rapists, arms manufacturers or food company executives accused of killing children by replacing expensive milk powder with cheap ground melamine. But at the same time, the Survivalist struggles with it.

Maybe the fact that genocidal African dictators, polluting oil company bosses and gangsters can buy top-end legal lawyers to get them off or bury the court in years’ worth of evidence means that there will be more of these prize f*ckers in the future, not less.

Willful ignorance

Nobody can tell me that the lawyers who constructed the derivatives contracts which misled investors and caused the virtual meltdown of the banks didn’t know what they were doing. Of course they did.

So why didn’t they say anything? Why didn’t they say, “We refuse to do this, because it is extremely dodgy – borderline fraudulent – and if it goes wrong it might cause a cascade effect which will damage millions of honest people?”

You might have gone your whole career so far without acting for someone who a) you know is a complete crim who deserves to be dropped in a hole with no chance of escape or b) you suspect is mounting a devilish scheme which could bite a lot of people in the arse.

But they may be the next client who comes in the door.

And then you may have to decide where your loyalties and your ethics lie, and just how far you are prepared to go to keep your soul smelling lemony-fresh. This is not something you have to do in many walks of life, but, as a lawyer, you often do.

The power of decision will be yours. Question is, what are you going to do with it?

Stay frosty. TS

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