Mindful Lawyering

At left, former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin holds up a newspaper with headlines about the ‘Panama Papers’ scandal about secret offshore bank accounts. Wayne Law Professor Peter Henning, at right, moderates the panel of, from left, Judge Nancy Edmunds, former Sen. Carl Levin and attorney Reginald Turner.

Photos by Steve Thorpe

Wayne Law panel looks at the 'Ethics of Knowing When to Say No'

By Steve Thorpe
Legal News

Prominent attorney Reginald Turner, past president of the State Bar of Michigan, told law students and young attorneys that they need to keep an eye on their ethical compass as they step into the real world of practice and its occasional temptations.

"There would be a lot less need for lawyers if everybody was good all the time," he said. "What's really important is for the lawyer to be good all the time."

The Levin Center at Wayne State University Law School presented "Mindful Lawyering: The Ethics of Knowing When to Say No" on Monday, April 4.

Linda Gustitus of the Levin Center provided introductory remarks and the panelists were:

- Former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, chair of the Levin Center at Wayne Law, distinguished legislator in residence at Wayne Law and senior counsel to Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP in Detroit.

- Judge Nancy Edmunds, Wayne Law class of 1976, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan and executive committee member of the Wayne Law Board of Visitors.

- Reginald Turner, member of Clark Hill PLC, past president of the State Bar of Michigan and member of the Levin Center External Advisory Board.

With a faculty vote in March 2015, the law school created the new center named for Levin, which school officials say is intended to educate future attorneys, business leaders, legislators and public servants on their role in overseeing public and private institutions.

As an illustration of how an attorney might be confronted with an ethical dilemma, the audience was shown a video originally created by the London-based group Global Witness that eventually ended up as part of a "60 Minutes" television segment.

An activist posing as a representative of an African government minister was filmed in encounters with more than a dozen New York law firms. The video offered a glimpse into how attorneys might act to facilitate the flow of "dirty money" into the country. Only one attorney, Jeffrey Herrman, said he was definitely not interested and told the man to go elsewhere. The meetings with the lawyers were all preliminary. None of the law firms took on the investigator as a client and no money was moved. Nonetheless, the video seemed disturbing in its implications.

Holding up a current newspaper with a front-page lead story about the "Panama Papers" scandal, Levin said that the topic was particularly timely.

"The sort of thing you saw (in this video) is in today's headlines," he said. "A firm in Panama for 30 or 40 years has been creating shell corporations to help people hide money."

Levin pointed out the difference between a lawyer being asked to help remedy wrongdoing and being asked to facilitate the wrongdoing.

"It's very important to distinguish between clients who come to you and say, 'We may have done something we shouldn't have done as a corporation' and we need you to help us address that," he said. "That's very different from when someone comes to you and says, 'I want to hide some money. Will you help me?' "

He also criticized one of the attorneys in the video for never attempting to determine who the real client was.

"The main failing of this attorney was never knowing who he was really dealing with," he said. "He never asked. That is a huge failure."

Turner pointed out that it's not always possible for an attorney to not brush against wrongdoers and criminals.

"There's a big part of our bar that represents criminal defendants, many of whom have committed crimes," he said. "Those lawyers take on those representations and must act within the canon of ethics. Our profession is not limited to representation of the righteous. It's important for the lawyers representing those clients not to fall into the mud."

Edmunds then pointed out what she saw as a significant difference between representing a criminal defendant and being an active participant in a crime.

"It's very different to represent a criminal client in something where the client has robbed a store or some kind of criminal activity," she said. "I've always thought of criminal defense as defending the system as well as defending the particular client. To me, that's quite different from money laundering where you're taking funds that were illegally obtained and 'cleaning them up.' You are participating in a crime, not just defending."

Levin stressed that these issues aren't just in headlines and news programs.

"These are the sort of ethical questions that are current and they're real."

Published: Wed, Apr 06, 2016

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