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Law firms and ethical standards

August 28, 2015

There was an inevitability that some law firms would start to promote class action lawsuits on behalf of the ‘exposed’ clients of Ashley Madison. Is this just another indication of the declining moral and ethical standards of the law, or is it a commentary on society more generally?

It troubles me that attorneys seek to profit by acting in the interests of clients who, in many cases, have been exposed as people who are less than open or honest.

Data privacy is unquestionably important in some instances – for example, when it affects your bank account. In reality, it is a very recent (19th century) concept. Prior to that, it was almost impossible to keep secrets because of living conditions. So the illusion that our privacy is some God-given right is exactly that – an illusion. It was created, one might argue, to protect the privileged few.

Today, it is far harder to remain hidden and the spread of economic wealth makes many of us targets for infinite sales efforts. In this regard, data protection is a good thing: I don’t want to be bombarded with spurious texts, phone calls, emails and advertisements.

But a situation like Ashley Madison – a site specifically dedicated to illicit affairs – seems to me rather different. In this case, people are trying to keep secrets because they know what they are doing is potentially damaging to their reputation or hurtful to others. They fear for the loss of trust or credibility that may result from exposure. But they had a choice – they took a risk. Should they really be protected or compensated if they are now exposed?

I am not suggesting that everyone should be whiter than white, that extra-marital affairs should or will never happen. My issue is that I don’t see why the courts – or opportunity-seeking lawyers – should protect them from the consequences of their actions. Indeed, the idea that a law firm makes a profit from pursuing such cases seems to me also immoral.

Should lawyers make moral judgments? To me, that is intrinsic to the rule of law and the answer should be yes.

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One Comment
  1. Eugene P. Grace permalink

    When I was at Villanova Law School, the person sitting next to me was a priest, Father Fitzgibbons. One day the Father Fitzgibbons was called upon to state his opinion regarding a particularly thorny matter. The professor and the priest engaged in a debate that grew increasingly hotter. The priest was stating the moral answer but not the legal answer. It ended with the professor stating, “…if it is morality you wants, then get thee back to the seminary.” This is a true story. Father Fitzgibbons left law school to take up more pastoral duties. Privacy law should be considered in most cases without regard to the content of the data, except maybe for issues of national security.

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