ALR Student’s Corner: What’s A Good Legal Movie Without A Little Misconduct? Professional Responsibility in The Client

I’ve been a John Grisham fan ever since my grandfather gave me my first copy of The Firm while I was still an undergrad. I was instantly ensnared by Grisham’s fast paced and intricate legal dramas that explore how traditional ideas of right and wrong tend to flex within the constraints of the law. As with any good legal thriller, Grisham’s novels are usually filled with high stakes crime, mobsters, and unsavory attorneys with questionable ethics. The 1994 adaptation of The Client is no exception to the Grisham best seller recipe, and tells the tale of a poor Memphis boy, Mark Sway, who is targeted by the Italian mafia for knowing damning information that could destroy the criminal organization in New Orleans.

Obviously, legal dramas that lack the gritty and devious excitement that comes with unethical behavior would hardly have movie goers flocking to the theaters. True to form, the plot of The Client is built upon a sleazy and cowardly lawyer’s violation of the most fundamental rule of professional conduct, attorney client confidentiality (Rule 1.6 under the ABA Model Rules). In the film, the highly intoxicated Jerome Clifford, attorney for Barry “The Blade” Muldano, tells young Mark, in a suicidal last confession, that Muldano admitted to the highly publicized murder of a state senator and buried the body in Clifford’s own back-yard boat shed. As a result, Mark is thrust into a tug of war between Barry the Blade, threatening to kill Mark if he breaks his silence, and Roy Fultrigg, a formidable U.S. Attorney demanding that Mark tell him the location of the body so that he can prosecute Muldano for the senator’s murder and bask in the political glory of a conviction.

Although the unethical misconduct in The Client starts with Clifford’s suicidal confession, it is hardly the most egregious offense in the film. As Mark begins to understand the predicament he’s in, he hires Reggie Love, a recovering alcoholic and juvenile advocate, to fend off Fultrigg and his pack of FBI lackeys. Fultrigg is the next lawyer who we see blatantly disregard the Rules of Professional Conduct when he attempts to question Mark without his mother being present, and specifically tells Mark he does not need an attorney (in violation of Rule 4.3 Dealing with Unrepresented Person, Rule 4.1 Truthfulness in Statements to Others, and Rule 8.4 Misconduct). Unfortunately for the smooth talking Reverend Fultrigg, Reggie anticipates his bad behavior and catches him in the act by having wired Mark and recorded the entire unethical encounter.

Interestingly enough (but perhaps not surprisingly), it is the film’s flawed heroine, Reggie Love, who commits the most serious violations throughout the film. After catching Fultrigg red-handed, she immediately threatens to expose him with the tape, essentially blackmailing a federal prosecutor. However, this is a minor infraction compared to what she does as the danger to Mark and herself intensifies as the film progresses. Reggie’s next major offense occurs when she barges in to the juvenile judge’s chambers and attempts to sway him in her favor based on their standing friendship (in violation of Rule 3.5 Impartiality And Decorum of the Tribunal). Yet, it isn’t until the film heats up in anticipation of the climatic discovery of the senator’s body that Reggie really throws the rule book out of the window. She harbors a now-fugitive Mark, drives him across state lines, trespasses on private property, and helps him break into Clifford’s boat shed in order to find the body all in a race against time and the advancing mafia hit men.

When looking at the characters collectively, it is clear that none of the attorneys have much respect for the Rules of Professional Conduct and instead base their actions on the ultimate pursuit of justice, whatever the cost. The battle between right and wrong and its operation within, and often times outside of, the constraints of the law is a common theme in all of Grisham’s stories. For Fultrigg, justice means a conviction for the murder of the state senator and the unraveling of an extensive crime syndicate. For Reggie, justice means protecting the civil liberties of an innocent boy who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Both characters are driven by their own personal beliefs of what justice truly is, and how far they are willing to go to achieve it.

At the end of the day it’s quite clear to anyone familiar with the Rules of Professional Conduct that all of the attorneys in the film would likely be disbarred for their actions in the real world, but then again, what fun would that be to watch?

ALR Student’s Corner: Department of Commerce: Minority Business Development Agency

The Commerce Department’s mission is to make American businesses more innovative at home and more competitive abroad. Responsible for everything from weather forecasts to patent protection, the following twelve departments of the Commerce Department impact the everyday lives of all Americans:

  • Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)
  • Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS)
  • U.S. Census Bureau
  • Economic Development Administration (EDA)
  • Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA)
  • International Trade Administration (ITA)
  • Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA)
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
  • National Technical Information Service (NTIS)
  • U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)

The Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) embodies the Commerce Department’s goal of maximizing job creation and global competitiveness by creating a new generation of minority-owned businesses that generate $100 million in annual revenues. The MBDA provides services in five major areas globally through its business center:

Global Business Development: Focus is on the importance of minority-owned businesses as a key component of U.S. international trade. Minority-owned firms have the most favorable export attributes of any sector of the U.S. economy and represent the future of export growth.

Access to Capital and Financial Management: MBDA’s business advisors offer extensive experience in commercial lending and banking, financial, credit and risk analysis and general finance counseling.

Access to Contracts: MBDA business development specialists provide procurement assistance to help minority-owned firms do business with the federal, state, and local governments as well as private corporations. These specialists provide identification of procurement opportunities, solicitation analysis, bid and proposal preparation, research contract award histories, post-award contract administration, and certifications assistance.

Access to Markets: MBDA services in this area include government procurement assistance, private sector contract identification, and specialized certification assistance, including 8(a), MBE, and Small Disadvantaged Business. Assistance with market research, market plan development, and marketing communications is provided, as well.

Strategic Business Consulting: This service area includes strategic and business planning, staffing, organization and structure, policies and procedures, and general business consulting.

Most recently, MBDA featured a segment on how minority manufacturing businesses have strengthened the “Made in America” brand. This year, MBDA recognized a couple of businesses for outstanding manufacturing impact and achieving significant success in employing new and innovative techniques that led to a significant increase in market share, job growth, and customer satisfaction. “Manufacturing creates good jobs and has the largest multiplier effect of any part of the economy,” said Alejandra Y. Castillo, MBDA National Director. “We are very proud of the tremendous achievements of minority businesses in the manufacturing industry that help grow the national economy through innovation, job and wealth creation.”

MBDA’s website is user friendly and provides an unlimited amount of information and resources, including a repository of publications for public research and review, dedicated to minority business developments.

ALR Student’s Corner: And Justice for All – A Review

We often become too familiar with our jobs. That along with losing passion, fatigue, personal issues, and conflicts may cause us to bring down our standards. Laws form the boundaries of our society, structure our government, maintain order, guarantee our rights and the freedom of private enterprise, regulate complicated affairs, and punish wrongdoers. However, what drove most of us, or at least many, to pursue a career in law is the idea of justice. Justice can be defined as the truth pursuant to the evidence, what is right under the totality of the circumstance, or what the law interprets as permissible based on the facts presented.

In “And Justice for All,” Al Pacino plays defense attorney, Arthur Kirkland, who has a reputation for having a high moral standard. He is also known to have bad blood with an authoritative judge named Henry Fleming, who is accused of raping and assaulting a woman. Unfortunately, Kirkland is forced to represent Fleming because the judge threatened to disbar him for breaking client confidentiality unless he takes the case. Because he is tied up with the big case, Kirkland asks a friend to fill in for him on a case involving a gullible transgender defendant who is accused of robbery and is petrified of how other inmates will treat him if he is convicted.

The lines quoted at the beginning of this article are from the scene where Kirkland finds out that his friend has neglected to request probation before judgment and the transgender defendant has committed suicide after being sentence to serve time. Not knowing all the facts, the friend yells, in response, that it’s just nickel and dime.

Defense attorneys make deals with prosecutors to request a favor in return, prosecutors want to be a star by convicting a judge, defense attorneys and prosecutors both fabricate or hide evidence to win the case. Kirkland says in his opening statement that the intention of justice is that the guilty people are proven guilty and the innocent are freed. He adds that the only problem is that both sides would like to win regardless of the truth, regardless of who’s guilty, because winning is everything.

The adversarial system has its merits. The procedural laws have its merits. If anyone’s been in an actual hearing or a trial in session, they would realize that nothing would be done without the strict rules governing the process, and the truth is often revealed during the cross-examinations and the presentation of evidence by the adverse parties. The courts also rule not only based on the law but on equity. The law is not only prescribed and remedies are ordered according to what is reasonable.

Then what is it that makes people fear the law yet not respect lawyers? Why do we entrust so much power to a profession that is not so trusted? Is it because lawyers are not honest?

Sam, Kirkland’s grandfather asks him if he’s a good, honest lawyer. Kirkland answers with a sarcastic tone that being honest doesn’t have much to do with being a lawyer. Sam replies back, “if you’re not honest, you’ve got nothing.” However, if all attorneys are completely honest, many defendants will not get a fair trial. We don’t want that. The issues and disputes that end up in court may be extremely complicated and confusing. Anyone can be the defendant – whether they meant to or not, and more importantly, judges will be more prone to be wrong if they only hear one side of the story. In that sense, although TV ads make you feel otherwise jaded, thank God there are plenty of defense attorneys.

If it’s not the law, and if it’s not the lawyers, why is it so difficult to achieve justice? Is the blindfold on lady justice getting in the way when she reads the scale and strikes that sword? I believe that regardless of how we might feel about the justice system we are on the right track and it’s a process in which we will ultimately build the most ideal system to achieve justice. Developments in technology, open public discussions, political debates, and new laws protecting individual rights are all examples of how we can and are advancing to construct a better justice system.

In “And Justice for All,” the defendant judge passes the polygraph although he later admits that he raped and assaulted the victim. Today’s DNA testing technology, and more advanced polygraph tests could have helped the prosecutor in cases like the one in “And Justice for All” where there were no witnesses other than the one planted by the defendant. Forensic use of DNA technology in criminal cases began in 1986, whereas the movie took place in 1979. North Carolina also permits the use of DNA evidence. As for polygraph (aka lie detector) test results, in many states including New York, Texas, Illinois, and the District of Columbia they are generally inadmissible. Some states do recognize them as admissible evidence and some permit them only to support probable cause for warrants.

Although I’m not sure how the law was back then, now no one in a courtroom would be able to shout things out, make comments, laugh and whistle without being held in contempt.

Human history is not that lengthy. Yet even after including prehistoric times, humans have been on this earth for only about 30 seconds out of a day in Earth’s time. Although we have achieved so much during the past few millennia, we are only discovering what we can do with what we have, not only with tangible materials but also with the products of our minds. As one of the greatest inventions and tools that was essential to our development and prosperity, the law and the justice system have evolved greatly, and will continue to change to one day achieve justice for all.