Fallen lawyers

22 Jun 17

Last week, the ABA presented a panel discussion, When Good Lawyers Make Bad Decisions, moderated by Serina Vash, now executive director at NYU Law and a former prosecutor in the US Attorney's Office in New Jersey.

The panelists consisted of an acting FBI agent and three formerly-licensed lawyers, all of whom pled guilty to felonies. Each of these ex-lawyers had not only impeccable pedigrees (Princeton, Columbia, Univ. VA/London School of Economics), but were highly successful in their respective law practices, at least, up until the time the troubles for each of them began.

And their troubles began, tragically, as the consequence of enormous pressures in their personal lives; in one case, a lawyer was dealing with an alcoholic wife who eventually died as a result of her addiction.

The discussion was mesmerizing. Each lawyer patiently and in great detail recounted his or her slow descent into ethical lapses and, eventually, criminality. Absorbing the lessons of their experiences, it all comes down to this: when faced with cultural, social, or economic stress, it's alarmingly easy for any one of us to forget our ethical duties, turn a blind eye and not ask the questions, fail to seek objective legal advice from a trusted lawyer—and allow events to inexorably unfold past the point of recovery.

Isolated decision-making was the recurring theme. Each of them had capable, experienced lawyers on hand with whom they could have consulted, and each of them wished they had.

Their lives would be completely different now, had they done so.