Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It's not so bad to violate a rule if you have a good reason for it (part 2)

Last summer I posted a comment with the same heading as this one (here) (hence the "part 2"). In it, I explained my position that it is wrong for a court to apply a rule in a way that suggests that its violation is not so bad because the attorney had a good reason to violate it. I think this approach undermines the reason for the rule in the first place. If you don't like applying the rule, change the rule. But don't say that it is okay to violate the rule if there is a good reason to do it.

Here is another example, reported by the Legal Profession Blog:

An Arizona hearing officer has recommended the censure of an attorney who arranged loans to clients through an arrangement by which the loans were made by another attorney secured by promissory notes. The attorney lent money to the other lawyer from personal accounts when the other lawyer did not have money to fund a loan. The attorney knew that the other attorney made loans through checks written on a lawyer trust account. The hearing officer found that the arrangements violated current client conflicts rules and business transactions with client provisions. There was no harm, the lawyer had acted negligently and the misconduct was motivated by concern for the welfare of clients. He was "very remorseful" and held an erroneous belief that "what he and [the other lawyer] were doing was okay...

There are two things I find troubling here. First, there is the naive (at best) notion that the conduct in this case was merely negligent and, second, is the notion that a violation of a rule is somehow "less bad" if it is done with good intentions, as I stated above.

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