A reader veers from the dissenters:
I’m a member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Lawyers’ Assistance Committee. Our job is to help attorneys and law students with alcoholism, drug addiction (prescription and otherwise), mental health issue and gambling addictions. We get some pretty fucked-up cases: lawyers who shown up in court drunk or high, lawyers who’ve tampered with escrow accounts – pretty much anything you can think of, we’ve seen it. We get lawyers who have been suspended, disbarred, who’ve done state and federal time. And, whenever we can, we try to help them turn their lives around and help them become honorable members of the Pennsylvania Bar again. And, pretty frequently, we do. We see lawyers capable of great, profound changes.
The situation that Glass presents isn’t an easy one. I’ll grant you it’s a close case. And yes, the NY State Bar application discrepancies are troubling. But recovery and change isn’t a straight, unyielding line. People don’t just enter therapy or rehab and come out all sparkly and new. It’s tough work. But people do it. My colleagues all throughout Pennsylvania have done it. The lawyers who have watched him and supervised him for over a decade, and the doctors that have treated him, reached the conclusion that he could be trusted. I’ve seen people earn the shot at redemption. Stephen Glass has earned his. I’d give him the shot.
So, the California Bar won’t let Stephen Glass in, but they’re happy to keep Orly Taitz. Right.
Another has “mixed feelings”:
On the one hand, I do believe in redemption, second chances, and the idea that a person shouldn’t pay forever for what they’ve done wrong. On the other hand, unless we are prepared to jettison the “character and fitness” component of the bar, why doesn’t this make sense? This is a person who has demonstrated, time and time again, that he is morally and ethically challenged – much more so than a person who has committed petty offenses or who has a drug conviction, in my opinion, but someone who literally cannot be trusted to tell the truth.
I think it’s important to understand just how committed to ethics the legal profession is. Despite the nasty jokes about lying, scumbag lawyers (and sure, every profession has their share of jerks), the law is one of the few professions with seriously high ethical and moral standards that all practitioners are required to meet.
Did you know that, at least in my state, it is considered a violation of legal ethics rules to not report a colleague who themselves has committed a violation? Did you know that an honest accounting mistake that results in loss to no clients and that is immediately corrected can result in the attorney losing his or her license to practice? This shit is no joke. So that quote from the NYT is not about “the pecking order”; it’s simply about the seriousness of ethics to the legal profession. I think it’s completely reasonable to pose the question: if we do not trust this individual to tell us the truth when he relays information, we do not trust him to be a lawyer!
And your comment about whether or not the inverse would be true? Well, I quite likely think it would be, if the nature of the ethical offense was relevant to journalism, as it is relevant here to law. An editor might not care if an applicant for a job at her news site had accidentally commingled funds in the past or failed to properly maintain contact with a client, but she would probably care if she learned that the applicant had, as a lawyer, wholesale fabricated evidence and repeatedly lied under oath.
This story does shed some light on the way you apply for the bar and how it can seem somewhat arbitrary. One state delayed a friend’s bar admission because she had listed on her background check that she took an antidepressant. The state bar wanted her to get a doctor to write that she was not a risk for her clients. None of her doctors knew what that meant, so they did not want to sign off on it. After much haggling and negotiation and letter-writing, they eventually admitted her.
Meanwhile, all the untreated depressed lawyers you know out there sailed through the process because they did not have to disclose the medications they should be taking. Another friend had to justify his debt load because he had been in a bad real-estate deal a while back, but unlike the Bob McDonnells of the world, he didn’t take bribes to cover it up. This kind of thing is not unheard of in the bar admissions process, and while Glass may have a high profile case, he is not the only one to be unjustly denied bar admission for something that people outside the profession may find silly. This case just gets added to the list of reasons for why the bar admission process needs adjustments.
Another goes deep into the debate:
I’m a law school graduate myself, so my opinions on this matter will obviously be colored by my own educational and life experiences. And it’s not that I don’t think that Glass deserves a second chance. I’m still ambivalent on that question, and I can empathize with both sides. What I really can’t STAND, though, is the smug condescension dripping from David Plotz’s post, which can be summarized as thus: more so than journalists, lawyers are dishonest and immoral and have an undeservedly high opinion of themselves, so it’s hypocritical that they won’t let Glass be one of them. In fact, Glass will probably make an even better lawyer than most because everyone, knowing his work history, is going to be watching him more closely anyway!
I don’t find these sorts of arguments to be helpful. First of all, yes, many lawyers are in fact dishonest and unethical pricks. Many escape the discipline and the disbarment they deserve (hello, Jay Bybee). None of that, however, means that the profession as a whole ought to drop the standards for entry, and Plotz makes no convincing argument for why this should be the case. Even if we accept his snide comments about the general superciliousness and immorality of lawyers, the obvious solution to that is to tighten the standards. Admit more honest attorneys; work even harder to keep out the ones who have proven themselves to be untrustworthy people.
And I’m not saying that an attorney’s work is any more “important” to society than a journalist’s, but Plotz is seriously underplaying the consequences of admitting bad apples here. You can argue that a dishonest lawyer who deceives his client is going to fuck up that individual client’s life on a far deeper and more profound level than a negative “lingering impact” on public perceptions of politics and race would.
Furthermore, Plotz fails to address the court’s finding that Glass’ deceptions and lack of remorse extended far beyond that mid-’90s period when he was churning out fabricated pieces. A huge part of the court’s decision was based on the fact that he continued to obfuscate his editors’ efforts to uncover all his deceptions well after the fraud had been discovered, misrepresented the extent of his cooperation on his New York bar application in 2002, failed to “full identif[y] his fabrications until the California bar proceedings” in 2007, and, even then, mischaracterized “the defects in his New York bar application.”
Pro-tip: As much as the bar frowns upon your lying to your employers and the general public, the bar hates it even more when you lie to it. To put this in legal terms, the “statute of limitations” on his misdeeds didn’t just start running once “nearly 20 years ago,” as Plotz says. Rather, the deception and lack of remorse California is so concerned about renewed itself each time that he failed to be completely forthcoming about his lies. Given that Glass had multiple chances to come fully clean and set the record straight – and did not do so – the court’s conclusion isn’t nearly as “bizarre and backward” as Plotz makes it sound.
Finally, I’ll end by responding to Bmaz’s post: Shon Hopwood’s story is indeed a touching one about second chances, but the analogy is imperfect. Hopwood does not need to be a member of a state bar in order to clerk, since clerks do not actually represent a client or argue in a court of law. (Glass himself clerked after law school, and if he wanted to do it again and a judge in California wanted to hire him, there is absolutely nothing that would stop him from doing so.) Now, I imagine that when the time does come for Hopwood to actually apply for admission to a bar, he will face much less opposition than Glass has, and this will be because (1) Hopwood served out his sentence in prison, so there is a perception that he has “paid his dues” to society, and (2) Hopwood did not spend years after the crime obfuscating and misrepresenting what had happened. Bmaz’s focus on the severity of the underlying offense (armed robbery vs. internet lies) as a barometer for deserved redemption seems misguided when you consider, again, that the California Supreme Court’s main concern was remorse.