May 21, 2020 Sidebar

Keep Your Nose Clean

It's easy to justify immorality in our selfish society, which worships wealth and power.

Kenneth P. Nolan

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I thought I wasn’t, but I really was naive. I believed the bunk about truth, justice, and the American way. Sure, everyone told a little white one on occasion, but the courthouse was a sacred temple; judges were paragons of integrity and impartiality, and attorneys were defenders of fairness and freedom.

I had been at the firm a few weeks when I researched a potential action—extremely lucrative—to determine its viability. Striving to impress, I spent nights in the library, mastering the subject, learning the precedent and law, writing a detailed brief that concluded it was a slam-dunk loser. After some spirited questioning, the partners, although disappointed at the loss of millions, accepted my recommendation and advised co-counsel and his client we could not assist them.

The next day, one of the bright, aggressive young lawyers—later my mentor—called me into his office, closed the door, and nearly shouted: “What are you, #@% crazy? Of course, we take the case. We’ll figure out some theory, convince the judge it’s a question of fact, and the defendant will settle. You never turn down a case that’s worth millions because they’ll always pay you thousands and lots of them. What’s wrong with you? You better wise up, or you’ll be back teaching.”

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