“There is an increasing and disturbing trend of criticizing lawyers for the clients they represent. Former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal is the latest such target… for representing Nestle in a suit alleging that Nestle aided and abetted abhorrent child labor practices abroad in violation of international law…This kind of criticism poses real risks to the health of our legal system, which depends on the zealous representation of both sides in a controversy.”
—Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
The principle that everyone deserves a lawyer is a fundamental pillar of our judicial system, universally recognized as essential to maintaining the rule of law.
So when I defend billionaire child slavers, you don’t get to say shit about it.
You don’t have to agree with every case I take. No big deal if you don’t cheer on my Big Pharma clients for engineering the opioid addiction crisis to boost corporate sales. But you must at least recognize how essential it is to the administration of justice in this country that I use my advanced knowledge of legal minutia to deny justice to countless overdose victims in exchange for huge sums of money.
Now, I have a sense of humor—I don’t mind a lawyer joke or two. It's the hypocrisy I can't stand. Public defenders get lionized for representing clients who commit horrible crimes like selling drugs or shoplifting. But where’s my recognition for doing the exact same thing? Just because instead of shielding our most vulnerable against the overwhelming power of the state, I file frivolous lawsuits to bully sick and dying plaintiffs into abandoning litigation against my massive corporate client for illegally discharging the toxic waste that caused their cancer? Talk about a double standard!
The truth is, allowing lawyers to incur any social or personal repercussions for the choices they make would present a dire threat to the U.S. legal system, which only works when both sides of a dispute are effectively represented. On the one hand, we need some lawyers who are willing to represent the millions of low-income Americans who, a recent study found, receive inadequate or no legal help for the vast majority of their civil legal needs. But—just as, if not more importantly—we also need lawyers who are willing to represent those corporations that have unlimited resources to pay us to lobby for favorable laws and litigate for favorable judicial opinions, no matter how objectively appalling the real-world effects of such work might be. We each have our part to play, our cross to bear.
That’s why each time I step into a courtroom on behalf of a client, I like to think of John Adams, who in 1770 risked his reputation and livelihood to represent the British soldiers charged with firing on colonists in the Boston Massacre. In his old age, Adams called this defense “one of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.” It is with this same spirit of disinterested and gallant manliness that I strive to advocate for each and every massive corporation that will pay me millions of dollars to do so.
But, while I try to have a thick skin about all this, I must admit it’s pretty disturbing when I hear a critic imply that I’m in some way morally culpable for the clients I choose.
When that happens, I have to remind my detractor (with all the patience I can muster) that I’m not the one who orchestrated a decades-long campaign of denial and deception to stop climate policy in its tracks, despite knowing since the 1970s that continuing to extract and burn fossil fuels would lead to catastrophic climate change. I’m just the guy using every litigation trick available to shield these oil and gas companies from accountability for knowingly sacrificing our best chance at a livable future.
If that doesn’t resolve things—if, say, my critic keeps complaining that “Dad, you always tell me I’m responsible for the consequences of my actions, why aren’t you, too?”—then I’ll chuckle and explain that, unlike certain bleeding hearts, I’ve actually been to law school, where I learned that making a crapload of money helping corporations fuck over literally everyone else on the planet is, in fact, the best way elite lawyers can stand up for the rule of law.
And if this critic still, after all that, continues to insist that my legal work is helping “condemn your own daughter to an apocalyptic future,” well, I’ll just have to send the little do-gooder to her room so she can spend some time thinking about John Adams.
So please, next time you hear about a millionaire attorney successfully arguing that corporations should be legally immune from suits brought by the children they enslaved, remember that the lawyer in question could have refused to take such an unpopular case, just as John Adams could have refused to represent those hated British soldiers. But thankfully, not all lawyers choose to blindly court popularity. Just as Adams was unafraid of being denounced, insulted, even threatened with death in order to defend the rule of law, some of us have the courage to collect enormous checks for doing the most heinous shit imaginable. Because in this country, everyone should have access to the very best legal representation they can afford. And with a billing rate of $2,000 per hour, you can bet I’m providing my clients with the best.