Disability Appeals in North Carolina  -   33 Years Experience
David R. Paletta
Disability Attorney

Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Boone
North Carolina

(919) 491-5643

Should money always decide who the client is?

Published by David Paletta

Our legal system is based on the adversarial model.  The theory is that each side to a dispute should be represented by trained advocates, that Truth will emerge from the litigation process, and the Court will dispense justice.  I believe in this legal system.  It has been my experience that most of the time our Courts do indeed dispense justice.

However, we live in an imperfect world.  There are great disparities in wealth and power. Often one of the parties in a dispute is indigent and powerless.

When I opened my law office decades ago I had no staff, no books, no money.  Obviously I needed clients to generate the income necessary to support myself and to build my law practice.  Immediately, I was confronted with an ethical issue.  How should I decide whether to take the new case that came in the door?

Other professions are not confronted with this issue.  When a sick person goes to the hospital, the doctor seeks to cure the illness.  When a student goes to the university, the professor seeks to educate.  When we call the plumber, he seeks to fix the leak.  

If the primary factor in accepting a new case is the client's ability to pay my fee, that has profound consequences.  Injustice and oppression are realities in this world, and they exist all around us.  If money is the primary factor in accepting a new case, then my moral code is based on the accumulation of wealth.  Given that Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism do not teach that the accumulation of wealth is our primary purpose, how can lawyers combine their professional life with their moral code?

I believe that money should NOT be the primary consideration in deciding to accept a case, and suggest including at least three additional factors in the decision.

1.  Ask ethical questions.  Does this dispute involve justice and injustice?  Will representing the prospective client cause me to violate my moral principles?  

2.  Do no harm.  The older I get, the more I believe in the wisdom of this directive.

3.  Do not enable a party who has been dishonest and caused harm thereby to escape the consequences of such behavior.

I must acknowledge this topic is complex.  Truth is often illusive and justice is often a shade of grey.  Nonetheless, I believe a lawyer's personal moral code should be a part of the law practice.  Representing clients in accordance with one's moral code, even with little or no financial reward, has intrinsic value and can enrich us in meaningful ways.