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Lies, Damned Lies, and Bar Applications

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Stephen Glass photographed at a lecture on journalistic ethics. Image has been digitally altered by the author.

Many years ago, there was a hotshot young journalist named Stephen Glass, on staff at The New Republic and writing other pieces for Harper’s and Rolling Stone and other high-profile magazines. He wrote amazing stuff. Smart, talented, and ambitious, he did things like reporting on both civil rights leader Vernon Davis and young College Republicans engaged in out-of-control drunken debauches. He profiled teenage hackers naming their own price for services to big corporations. Eye-opening and deeply interesting pieces, compellingly-written, really great stuff, with only one fly in the ointment of this truly promising journalistic career.

Very little of it was true.

Glass had made damn near all of it up. Utterly humiliating his defenders on the editorial boards of these venerable publications, he had taken them all in. Probably starting with just a little fudge here and a tweak of a fact there, it eventually grew into him creating shill websites, having fake business cards printed, and imposing on his brother to pose as a source for verification purposes.

He came clean after he was exposed by an actual journalist, apologized to the victims of his fabrications, and then wrote a book called The Fabulist purporting to describe his own adventures from his own perspective, and that was found to have contained untruths and fictions as well. The whole sordid affair was eventually biographized in the film Shattered Glass. I’m told the film is quite good; I’ve not seen it myself.

After his scandal broke, Mr. Glass earned a law degree with honors from Georgetown University Law Center. He passed the New York state bar in 2000, but was not admitted to practice in New York because his journalistic misdeeds were thought to indicate that he lacked the moral character sufficient to allow for admission to the bar. (You may insert whatever joke you wish about attorneys and moral character here. We’ll come on back to that subject in a bit.) He found work as a paralegal at a personal injury firm in Beverly Hills, and has taken and passed the California bar exam.

Again, his application for formal admission to the bar has been held up on moral character grounds. He was declined admission, again because of the journalistic escapades, and has appealed to the California Supreme Court. Which recently heard oral arguments on Glass’ moral character application, something it does only rarely.

I’m of two minds about the question. Glass made his ethical lapses fifteen or more years ago. He’s been put through a tremendous public shaming. At some point, there has been enough punishment, hasn’t there? It’s not clear that he committed any crime, although he may have committed civil wrong like defamation. And I sure as hell wouldn’t want to have my own career held up because of mistakes I made, even grave ones, fifteen years ago when I was young and unwise and not yet molded by the experiences that have cumulated to make me who I am today. I would want to be judged based on who I am now.

But on the other hand, there are two things at [kinds of misdeeds that show] the very core of what attorneys are uniquely entrusted with by the nature of our profession [why the good moral character of an attorney is especially important.] One is to steal from a client. We hold special power and special knowledge over our clients’ financial affairs; we can take our clients’ money and prevent our clients from ever even knowing they had it in the first place.*

The other is to alter evidence — whether that is spoliation of evidence, manufacturing of evidence, or subornation of perjury. We are sentinels of the truth. We deal in facts, evidence, and our arguments and negotiations are only credible to the extent that they can be trusted to be based upon the truth. Whatever jokes about attorneys lacking integrity you might have made above, the fact is you should insist that your attorney be someone who scrupulously deals exclusively in truth. Liars lose when their lies come to light.

What Glass did was really bad, in this exact arena. His biography and the fabrications in that suggest that he didn’t learn much from his experiences, including that he didn’t even learn that he would almost certainly be aggressively fact-checked.

When the facts aren’t there to support a case, the attorney’s job is to mitigate the damage. It isn’t to manufacture better evidence than what really exists. Glass’ escapades raise a serious concern that when the facts he wants aren’t there, he will use his considerable talents — for they are considerable — to create better ones.

So I’m very happy to see that Stephen Glass is being examined closely. I’m glad that the guardians of entry into my profession are taking a wary stance with a person with this history, and I’m also glad that he’s being given a chance to prove himself as redeemed. What I’m not certain of is what sort of showing he can make that would convince me that he was redeemed.

According to the NPR story linked above, he put on a series of witnesses of past employers, including the owner of the New Republic (I note, not an editor) as well as judges and lawyers, who attested to his good character. Is that enough? It doesn’t feel like enough to me. Maybe feel isn’t the best gauge here. At least one Justice asked what extraordinary things Glass has done since his disgrace to make things better — how has he tried to encourage honesty in journalism? It seems he’s spoken at a few symposia about his experiences and said all the right things at them, but otherwise hasn’t done a whole lot other than lead the life of an apparently talented paralegal.

There is no evidence, though, that since the publication of his biography that Glass has engaged in any sort of dishonest conduct. I suppose we can presume petty social untruths along the order of “Oh, I’m doing fine today” when he was really unhappy, or “Sure, you look great in that dress.” But on anything material, there’s no evidence that he’s spun untruths along the lines of his former life of a speculative fiction novelist masquerading as a hotshot journalist.

Let’s assume that since his public shaming was completed, he has in fact led an honest life, and offered appropriate and sincere apologies expressing contrition for his past actions. But nothing more.

Prudentially, I think I’m unmoved by this showing: simply leading a life that didn’t get him in to further trouble is a relatively low bar, and for a profession in which personal integrity is a principal asset, I want to see something more than the norm by someone whose previous behavior demonstrated a significant drop below it.

And, I’d also be a little bit wary of seeing Mr. Glass representing an adverse party in a lawsuit I was handling; while most of my opposing counsel I have no reason whatsoever to suspect would have engaged in any sort of nefarious conduct like spoliation of evidence or subornation of perjury, I can’t say that I would have the same presumptive confidence in Stephen Glass as opposing counsel.

I could be persuaded to change my mind about Mr. Glass. I don’t want to be ungenerous in dispensing forgiveness or uncharitable in presuming future dishonesty. But I just don’t think he’s done enough to change my mind yet, not with a showing like this. What bugs me is that I can’t really think of what it is that I would want to see him do or say that would accomplish that, and I would like to give him (and thus everyone) the courtesy of defining what might change my mind other than to insist that it is changeable.

Nebulous as my standard of persuasion seems to be, it’s not been met, not with the showing described in reports about what he offered the California Supreme Court. Without wishing him ill fortune in life, I can’t say as I’d be pleased to welcome Mr. Glass as a brother member of the Guild. Not yet, anyway.

 

* Why would a lawyer steal from his client? Because he is an addict and needs to feed his addiction, more often than not. Also, thanks to Professor Aitch for highlighting an absolutely awful first sentence of this paragraph, which I have edited to hopefully come closer to my intent.

 
Burt LikkoBurt Likko is the pseudonym of an attorney in Southern California. His interests include Constitutional law with a special interest in law relating to the concept of separation of church and state, cooking, good wine, and bad science fiction movies. Follow his sporadic Tweets at @burtlikko, and his Flipboard at Burt Likko.

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84 thoughts on “Lies, Damned Lies, and Bar Applications

  1. Glass lost his job, was publicly shamed, and has spent the last fifteen years living a life free of the sorts of misbehavior that got him into trouble. Burt, you don’t think that’s enough, and I’m inclined to agree.

    See, I’m not sure that anything is enough. Oh, I believe in forgiveness and that a man shouldn’t have to live his entire life under the shadow of his previous behavior. But getting out from that shadow means finding a different path.

    Glass had an ethical obligation to the truth, and lied. So why is he seeking out another career where he has an ethical obligation to the truth? Clearly he’s an excellent writer–so why doesn’t he write fiction? Why did he choose to go to law school and seek a career as a lawyer when he had just established that he wasn’t trustworthy enough to be a lawyer? Why not seek some different path where “liar” isn’t a black mark?

    A guy steals money from his work, it’s cruel to say he can never hold a job again. But telling him he can’t work with money anymore? That’s just common sense.

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  2. But on the other hand, there are two things at the very core of what attorneys are uniquely entrusted with by the nature of our profession. One is to steal from a client. … The other is to alter evidence

    I always suspected as much, but does the Bar Assiciation want you to confirm that so publicly?

    For my part, I agree with Hastings prof Geoffrey Hazard that “You’re asking a kind of a hyper-Christian redemption out of him, and I just don’t think that’s proper for a court to set a standard that high.” He’s oaid his debt, so it’s inappropriate to hold up his career prospects over his past. I think it’s sufficient that any judge and opposing counsel are going to look at him with extra scrutiny.

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    • If the Bar Association doesn’t want me to publicly state that its members are uniquely empowered to do these two particularly bad things (over and above the sorts of bad things that anyone can do) then its officers are free and empowered send me an advisory opinion, which I will then place in a most appropriate location.

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    • You’re wrong here, Mr. Aitch; and Burt sees it, because he’s attorney and knows the law.
      In fact, he even said it in the piece:
      At least one Justice asked what extraordinary things Glass has done since his disgrace to make things better — how has he tried to encourage honesty in journalism?

      I respectfully submit that controlling law in the matter at bar is that of conspiracy; specifically, of withdrawal from a conspiracy.

      I remember reading a case (from California, IIRC) where a member of a biker gang that was running drugs left the gang, moved to another state, had his tattoos removed, had even become a deacon in his church — completely turned his life around, having nothing whatever to do with the gang or drugs for over two years (three, IIRC) — yet this was not sufficient for withdrawal from a conspiracy.
      When the indictment came down, he was named as a conspirator, and convicted. The appellate court was very sympathetic to his circumstances, but followed the law. His appeal was denied.

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      • He wasn’t legally involved in a conspiracy, so I don’t buy it.

        I’m not saying Burt is wrong from the Bar’s and the Court’s standards; I’m saying the standard is wrong. And while I have the greatest esteem and personal liking for Burt, I would note that Mr. Hazard is also a lawyer (although I don’t know him to esttem and like him as I do Burt.

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      • Utterly humiliating his defenders on the editorial boards of these venerable publications, he had taken them all in. Probably starting with just a little fudge here and a tweak of a fact there, it eventually grew into him creating shill websites, having fake business cards printed, and imposing on his brother to pose as a source for verification purposes.
        — snip —
        . . . and then wrote a book called
        The Fabulist purporting to describe his own adventures from his own perspective, and that was found to have contained untruths and fictions as well.

        Are you sure he didn’t enter into “some manner of agreement or understanding” with another person at any time?

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      • TO be clear, I really don’t think that it’s a matter of conspiracy that they’re concerned about (no one else is being called up on the carpet). But I think that’s the standard that will be applied.
        I think the real issue is that he’s been disciplined on prior occasion.

        I understand your views, and I admire your adherence to ethical standards (and TimK as well). I truly wish all attorneys were like that.
        But in my experience, they’re not.

        It’s written into caselaw as well.
        One notable feature of a racketeering action is that they almost always involve at least one attorney as a member of the enterprise.
        Orlins & Brainerd were the firm in Handeen v. Lemaire. That firm was dissolved as a result of that case. One of them continued to practice in Minnesota, and the other went to Illinois (a haven for crooked lawyers). But it’s pretty much the same in any racketeering action involving bankruptcy.

        Bankruptcy attorneys’ fees are limited by statute; and it seems to me that they make most of their money in adversary hearings.
        But I don’t think that’s really the cause of it.

        At any rate, Orlins and Brainerd both continue to practice law after being horribly disgraced.
        But they were never disciplined. They settled before it came to that.

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      • Missing two words can make an astute sentence completely stupid.
        That should read:
        One notable feature of a racketeering action involving bankruptcyis that they almost always involve at least one attorney as a member of the enterprise.

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  3. What bugs me is that I can’t really think of what it is that I would want to see him do or say that would accomplish that, and I would like to give him (and thus everyone) the courtesy of defining what might change my mind other than to insist that it is changeable.

    How about, “I’m sorry if anyone was offended by my expressions of suppositional facts while writing for a ‘this reality’ publication.”

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  4. I suppose we can presume petty social untruths along the order of “Oh, I’m doing fine today” when he was really unhappy, or “Sure, you look great in that dress.”

    Allow me to be the first to add an irrelevant comment: This reminded me of a really annoying article by a really annoying journalist about “Radical Honesty,” which the reporter took to mean “constantly insult people and express your resentment.” It was a great illustration of the “hey, I’m just being honest here” school of assholery, and made me wonder if the petty social untruths are really untrue in any real sense. “I’m doing fine” is really untrue if you are hiding a terrible problem that the other person should be informed of, but in context of “things could be worse, beats shoveling goat shit in hell,” it seems perfectly valid.

    Some professions, as you say, ethically require brutal honesty. Extraordinary dishonesty is a deal-breaker, because there are limits to true forgiveness and trust. Trust requires exposure to potential betrayal, and serial liars, like addicts, stretch the limits of our willingness to expose ourselves like that. Its beyond our control—it’s natural to recoil, in the same way we recoil from a venomous snake or a red-hot poker.

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    • Yeah, I hate the “I’m just being honest” approach when it usually means, “I get to say whatever I want, no matter how hurtful or solipsistic.” I’ve also noticed that at least those such people I’ve met aren’t really all that honest, or at least not more honest than anyone else. I’ve seen them adopt social niceties when it’s in their interest to do so or when it’s one of their friends they’re protecting.

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    • Lies are only problematic when you’re using them to get an unfair advantage over people.
      Lie to someone in order to make them feel better about doing something they’re going to have to do anyway? I suppose it’s okay.

      If nothing else, truth is always stranger than fiction. If you’re going to tailor your points to be understandable, well, sometimes you don’t want the actual facts.

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    • “You look great in that dress” has social rather than literal meaning; it’s made in response to a question that doesn’t really translate to a request for genuine thoughts about speaker’s fashion, but rather “Human: a request for affirmation of my fashion, unless it is so horrendous that softly breaking it to me would ultimately be better.” So indeed, the “honest” answer isn’t much more honest than the expected one. It’s like a more annoying form of pedantry. (“Do you know what time it is?” “To be brutally honest: Yes. Yes I do.”)

      Compare “Will this fire alarm keep us safe?”, which is not (usually) meant in a social-transaction sense, and does call for “literal” honesty, not emotional reassurance.

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      • Compare “Will this fire alarm keep us safe?”, which is not (usually) meant in a social-transaction sense, and does call for “literal” honesty, not emotional reassurance.

        “No, sweetie. Not unless there’s a fire. If an axe-wielding maniac breaks in, we’re all dead. Night-night.”

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  5. I’m inclined to agree with Scott and Patrick, above. The larger question is this: Are there infractions so severe that the commission of said infraction should permanently bar one from working in certain occupations?

    What immediately comes to mind, of course, are pedophiles in day care centers and the like. I think the answer is clearly “yes” but I honestly don’t know if this case rises to that level.

    As an aside, I guess this is what occupational licensing is really about, ideally.

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    • Are there infractions so severe that the commission of said infraction should permanently bar one from working in certain occupations?

      Pete Rose does not belong in the Hall of Fame.

      Gimme some time and I’ll think of some others.

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      • Tyson yes, more for his own sake than anything else. Vick, eh, I think he’s a piece of dung but his infraction had nothing to do with his profession. It’s a weakness of character, but I’m less willing to blackball people from a specific profession for weaknesses of character than attacking the integrity of their own workplace. Lance Armstrong, he’d be one for certain. He not only attacked the integrity of his own workplace, he’s *also* a piece of dung. Double whammy.

        Scooter and Jack, almost certainly. Well, the list of politicians would include a number of people who currently hold seats, so there’s that, too.

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      • re: Politicians.
        What’s odd, Patrick, is that people out here in the county are more concerned about Blago flying home to Chicago every night on the taxpayers’ dime than they are about trying to sell off a Senate seat.
        He could run for reelection here, sure.
        But that flying back to Chi-town every day would likely change it from a landslide to a squeaker.

        It seems like they’ve built up quite a tolerance to corruption in government around here over a period of time; toughened up to it. Had to, likely.

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      • Did Pete Rose ever bet against his own team? If so, I’d agree with the ban. If he bet on his team, I’d say the ban is stupid.

        In fact I think every pro athlete should be required to wager 10% of his/her salary on his/her own team winning.

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      • That’s bad policy for managers, .

        You wouldn’t want a manager to drop $3k on his team winning tonight and then have that decision affect his middle relief rotation or his decision to bring in the closer or anything like that. “Normally I wouldn’t bring The Kid in when his elbow has been bugging him, I’d let me rest another three days, but their slugger is coming up and the first reliever put two on base, I gotta bring him in or I’m going to lose the dough”.

        In baseball, the goal is to have the best record, not win each game, and those two goals are sometimes at cross-purposes. Betting on your own team upsets that balance.

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  6. 1. Technical Question: How is this case just being heard now? I remember that the Moral Character Board said that they would appeal the appeals decision a few years ago. Possibly before I took the California Bar in July 2011. I’ve only worked in Federal Court but I guess dockets are jammed. I remember looking for the case decision and not finding it and being surprised.

    2. F.Scott Fitzgerald famously said “that there are no second acts in America.” That is not quite true. There are second acts in America. From what I heard, Stephen Glass is getting paid more as paralegal than many lawyers. His salary might be comparable to a 1L associate at a big firm. The law school/law employment crisis is still going on. I have friends who passed the bar and moral character exam and are hanging their own shingle/working in retail at the same time for steady income, I have friends who are working as legal secretaries, or are glorified admins. So it rackles me a bit.

    3. Like you I am of two minds. I had a friend with a small misdemeanor from college who was worried about his moral character application. He called the hotline and was told “We have convicted murderers who are admitted to the bar.” Can you defend admitting convicted murderers to the Bar and not Stephen Glass?

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      • There’s almost nothing about being a lawyer that makes it easier to murder someone.

        There is something about being a lawyer that makes it easier to steal from someone, particularly one’s own clients. There is something about being a lawyer that makes it easier to lie convincingly and get away with it. We use “moral turpitude” as a shorthand phrase for this professional concept.

        (There’s probably something about being a doctor that makes it easier to murder someone — better knowledge of the human body, access to better drugs and tools, and the ability to be placed in a position of trust over a vulnerable human body. I would consequently be more reluctant to see a murderer become a doctor than I would a lawyer. Not that murderers being admitted to the bar is a phenomenon that fills my heart with joy.)

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    • New Dealer,

      I have friends who passed the bar and … are hanging their own shingle…

      Off-topic, but I’m curious. What is the practical reality of a group of them (assuming they are friendly with each other) joining together to collectively start a new law firm? Realistic? Unrealistic? Harder than hanging out one’s own shingle? Less likely to oay iff than working as a legal sec/glorified admin? Is doing so or not primarily an issue of personality, whether or not one is entrepreneurial?

      Other lawyers here are invited to chime in as well.

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      • I formed a law firm with buddies from law school, although not right after we all passed the bar. The thing to realize about doing this is that you’re throwing in your lot together, and probably have to agree to share alike with the proceeds of your work for quite some time. Because different practices often build with unequal efficacies, this means that some people will be effectively supporting others for a time until they reach parity. And that is a breeding ground for resentment unless these are really, really good friends. Which can happen, but money problems strain those sorts of friendships.

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      • Initially easier: I imagine that you pool resources for things like malpractice insurance, filing fees, LexisNexus, printing, maybe rent on an office space, court reporters, a web site, servers, etc.

        Cold reality: You are still a bunch of newly minted lawyers without much experience and possibly connections for clients. My friend works in retail because she needs it for steady income along with the practice she is slowly growing. Eventually there could be feelings of ill-will and people not doing their fair share but reaping profits, etc. Burt noted this below. Partnership dissolutions can be more bitter than divorce.

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      • I know at least one of my friends with a solo practice still looks for regular employment as an associate at a more established firm. If she ever got it, she could wind down her solo practice easily. I imagine it is harder to tell your friends “BTW I’m leaving the practice.”

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      • , the main problem with newly minted lawyers practicing on their own or with other new lawyers is that they have a good chance to commit malpractice without guidance. Law school does very little to teach the practicalities of being a lawyer and in law a mistake can get in trouble with the disciplinary committee.

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      • Adding on, since by now it’s justified:

        NewDealer

        “Burt, lawyers are usually in close enough proximity to their clients to kill them sometimes.”

        As Burt also pointed out, there’s nothing about being a lawyer which puts somebody in a better position to commit murder.

        Heck, a barber is in a far better position, so far as proximity is concerned.

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  7. To ramble/muse a bit on this without firmly staking out a position (a favorite pastime):

    To say “given Glass’ past, he may never be barred, full stop” is a coherent and defensible position. Won’t/can’t say whether it’s mine or not, but you can make it.

    On the other hand, to say “given Glass’ past, he may not be automatically barred, but theoretically could clear some sort of threshold allowing him to be barred” is only defensible if-and-only-if you can name an actual, real-life threshold. Sacrificing his life doesn’t count, since he could only be symbolically barred at that point. One would need to point to a real-life action that could constitute redemption.

    Often, though not always, we want redemption to be some sort of inverse of the original crime/sin. We want addicts to preach to youth about the dangers of drugs, we want thieves to make good their theft, etc.

    Lying, however, is trick in this regard. We define the opposite of a lie as truth, but in some sense that’s not quite correct. Truth is, in this context, really more the absence of lies (and perhaps the absence of bullshit as well). Integrity is simply a failure to lie. This leaves us without an obvious “anti-lie.” This is in some ways analogous to Taleb’s concept of “anti-fragility,” which is the “true” opposite to fragility, as opposed to resilience which is simply the absence of fragility.

    So perhaps an “anti-lie” would be an act of truth-telling that comes at significant cost to one’s self, an act of positive integrity that benefits the public at his own expense. However, a problem with using that as a standard is that such an opportunity may never arise – you cannot simply work very hard or try very hard and generate such an opportunity.

    Perhaps an “anti-lie” is a bold, complete public accounting of sins. But is it all sins? Certainly sins that would prevent him from being barred would pose their own complication, but should he be forced to disclose his every moral lapse? This is probably a black hole.

    So if a lifetime of failing to lie does not sufficiently cancel the sin of boldly, shamelessly lying in major ways to the public over long periods, what does?

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    • To riff off this, I want to point to the following from the OP:
      At least one Justice asked what extraordinary things Glass has done since his disgrace to make things better — how has he tried to encourage honesty in journalism?

      How hard would it be for an inveterate liar to fake that? To do it aggressively, but wholly instrumentally, without any true belief in what he’s doing? Too easy, it seems to me, for it to be a reliable signal. The very publicness and purposiveness of it lends itself to making it just a performance.

      Conversely, for an inveterate liar to just live without evidence of lying for a considerable period of time, without drawing attention to his honesty, seems much harder, more likely a true signal of change.

      The demand for a big action seems to me a demand for symbol, mistaken for substance, that overlooks true substance that lacks the flash to be simply symbolic.

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    • I like almost all of that, but I think you went off course here:
      Integrity is simply a failure to lie.
      I don’t believe that’s true.

      The way it was explained to me was in terms of “honesty” and “truthfulness.”

      The little girl asks the little boy if he has three pennies. The little boy looks in his pocket, and sees he has seven pennies; so he says, “No.”
      That’s truthfulness.
      The little girl asks the little boy if he has three pennies. The little boy looks in his pocket, and sees he has seven pennies; so he says, “Yes, I do. In fact, I have seven.”
      That’s honesty.

      I think Integrity proper is more about being entirely forthcoming than mere truthfulness.

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      • Strictly speaking, saying you do not have three pennies when you in fact have seven pennies is plainly false. If that’s truthful, it would seem to be a synonym of “misleading.” In a court of law, one can’t be faulted for being truthful but unforthcoming, since doing otherwise is just doing the opposing counsel’s work for him. In real life, this is just another way to deceive others.

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      • The oath administered in most courts is to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

        “No, I don’t have three pennies” is the truth as viewed through a deliberately-selected lens, but it not the whole truth since in fact the boy has seven pennies. Under these circumstances, such an answer deceptively suggests that the boy is penniless (or, alternatively, he might be monopennied or dipennied) and therefore it implies something other than the truth.

        Were the penny count to have been a material fact in dispute upon which the boy intended others to rely in forming a legal decision, he would have perjured himself.

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  8. I am going to call BS on this. I understand that Bar Associations want to protect their brand, but let’s be honest and admit that’s what this is. There are so many legal, and technically ethical ways, that a lawyer can rip you off, the last thing that the bar wants is to license someone at whom people might look at with extra scrutiny. People might start putting two and two together.

    And I’m not anti-lawyer. I’m anti the present licensing regime for lawyers. It’s one thing if membership in the bar were some sort of voluntary enhancement, the way that a CFA operates for investment professionals, but it’s not. The bars maintain a legal monopoly on licensing people to practice law, which places on them the burden to use their ability to exclude sparingly and for cases where people are actually not qualified.

    If the Stonecutters want to maintain the right to exclude anyone for any reason to maintain the integrity of their guild, fine, but as long as they are the only ones who retain the legal right to stack one brick on top of the other, they don’t get to do that willy nilly. Or in this case, maybe they do.

    Of course, it’s possible that these sorts of ethics questions are routinely raised about applicants with less notoriety. If that’s the case, I cede the point.

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      • If the Bar provides a substantial public service in exchange for the monopoly, then it is not rent-seeking but rather a fair exchange of services.

        That public service consists of a) the regulation of attorneys at minimal taxpayer expense, resulting in the elimination of attorneys who harm their clients and the public from the ranks of those practicing law, and b) sorting out those who lack the intellectual abilities to practice law competently by preventing them from entering the profession in the first place.

        The extent to which the monopoly inflates prices and depresses competition is debatable as well. Lawyers are quite competitive with one another in the marketplace as well as in the courtroom, and there are substantial peripheral industries like paralegal shops, document preparation services, and legal aid clinics that afford Kia-level services to the public at rates substantially below the Cadillac-level services which attorneys presumably offer. In many cases, the Kia is all you really need — for instance, if you and your spouse are amicably divorcing and have no children, then you probably don’t need a lawyer to file a dissolution of marriage, and there are ample document preparation services offering that kind of paperwork for very reasonable rates in all fifty states.

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      • Kazzy, read ‘Inside the Law School Scam’ (for a start, and follow the links to other blogs and books). You’ll realize just how of a non-rent-seeking thing the ABA has become. They’ve worked hard to lower the salaries of the overwhelming majority of lawyers. Not as much as they could have, but a lot.

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  9. I can’t believe I just got to reading this post now. This was really excellent, Burt. It’s one of those pieces I wish I had written myself. And for what it’s worth, both my personal and my professional opinion are the same as yours on Glass. There are a bunch of careers out there that do not carry the fiduciary weight that being an attorney does; he should go find one of those.

    I have nothing else to add, except maybe this sidebar note:

    This summer I was reading a piece in Boston magazine that was at one point lamenting a candidate for judge in Massachusetts removing himself from the race. He pulled out when it was revealed he lied on the financial disclosure forms he was required to submit to the elections board.

    The bit that he lied about had to do with donations. He had previously contributed heavily to the campaigns of two other judges who had been found guilty of taking bribes and been removed from the bench. In fact, more than 50% of his political contributions over a five year period were made to these two judges. At the time he was running for the bench, their crimes were big news so he decided to fudge on his disclosure forms hoping no one would double check.

    The guy writing for Boston magazine thought this was a travesty of justice. After all, the writer reasoned, all the candidate for judge did was falsify some oft-ignored records in order to put himself in a slightly better position. And I remember thinking, isn’t that exactly what you don’t want a judge to do, ever, under any circumstances? If there’s *one* career in the entire world which lying on your disclosure forms should automatically disqualify you for, isn’t that it?

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    • Yes indeed. The requirement that lawyers be honest applies twentyfold to judges.

      But bear this in mind as a dash of spice to that thought. Should I have the honor of being required to fill out those same forms myself in the future, I might inadvertently overlook something and submit forms that contain inaccurate information or misunderstand what information is being requested. I consider myself a pretty honest guy, but it might be hard for a third party to distinguish between a good-faith omission and an intentional one (aka a “lie”). The situation in Massachusetts you described doesn’t sound defensible as an honest mistake, but other similar situations might be.

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  10. A very good analysis of this issue Burt, though there is one thing I would add.

    The tricky thing for me is not the severity of his actions, nor the relevance of them to his professional ethics as a would-be lawyer, but the damage it has done to his credibility in general. Since his crime was to develop thorough, detailed and dangerously plausible lies; what display of repentance could he ever engage in? Anything he says or does is observationally equivalent to another carefully-crafted lie.

    I have no idea how you would craft a test that could tell the difference between an honest Glass and a dishonest one. That means he’s just going to have to look for a different line of work.

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    • I perversely enjoy how everything wrong in certain peoples’ lives ultimately is traceable to illegal immigration, usually with surprisingly few steps. Education in the country going to crap? It’s the illegal immigrants’ fault. Crime on the rise (it isn’t, btw)? Illegal immigrants are doing it — they’re criminals already, so why not, right? Auto insurance premiums too high? It’s because of all those illegal immigrants driving around uninsured. Can’t find a job? That’s because the illegal immigrants stole them all from the rest of us. Welfare fraud running unabated? That’s because it’s illegal immigrants cheating the system. Didn’t make that yellow light and now you have to wait an extra forty seconds to turn in to get your Jamba Juice? It’s because of that damn illegal immigrant driving twenty miles an hour below the speed limit in front of you instead of speeding like a citizen would have. Overdue for an oil change? Of course you are, since the illegal immigrant who worked at that Jiffy Lube didn’t put one of those reminder stickers on your windshield the way a guy with a green card would have.

      So, in a forced-choice, A-or-B scenario, who would you rather have representing you in a legal matter where your money, or your liberty, is at stake?

      A) Honest but undocumented non-citizen.
      B) Natural-born citizen perfectly willing to lie to you about your case.

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