Attacks on the morality of law-department lawyers

Critics can assail the morality of in-house lawyers on several grounds. Here are some that occur to me but are not at all necessarily agreed to by me.

Capitalism has taken its share of blows for being inherently immoral. Corporate counsel help their companies make profits and handsomely reward the executives who manage the enterprise. Companies compete against each other, which means that many of them close shop, lay off workers, and destroy the savings of lifetimes.

The goods and services associated with all manner of companies outrages critics, who lambaste the production of landmines, soap operas, tight jeans, colas, botox, or whatever else they hold to be morally wrong. To environmentalists, a good portion of our national output wastes resources and violates nature. To animal rights advocates, cruelty is rampant. To pacifists, the military-industrial complex is soaked in blood. And so on.

Anti-materialists thunder that companies push false needs, and they would castigate in-house counsel as immoral tools of enterprises that feed our worship of the accumulation and waste of goods.

Social responsibility critics point out the wrongfulness of racism, sexism, ageism and other isms by companies, not to mention their woeful disregard – even trampling – of the interests of the wider community and the environment.

Our legal system has been decried as the handmaiden of vested interests, a bludgeon for the power elite to club their way to prominence and keep themselves fat, rich, fat and on top.

Some people attack income inequality as immoral. Most in-house attorneys earn far above the national median and could be blamed as part of the unseemly gap between rich and poor (See my post of March 17, 2006: $175,000 or so.).

Is it ethically defensible to serve a profit-seeking company that primarily seeks share-price appreciation by the provision of suspect products and meretricious services, or to use the law to trample rights and earn too much (See my post of Nov. 10, 2007: the movie, “Michael Clayton.”)?

To the extent the ethical underpinnings of in-house lawyers are suspect, then those who promote better management of law departments are serving the devil.

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