For those positioned to gain lots of gold if they bow and scrape before the loose ethics of the day, the cost of integrity is high. One man, former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, late last month left lots of money on the table to do what's right.
Since the Obama administration refuses to defend the Defense of Marriage Act before the U.S. Supreme Court, the House of Representatives hired Clement to do so. Clement was a partner in a major law firm, King & Spalding-and that's worth millions. When colleagues gave in to pressure from the gay-rights lobby, led by the Human Rights Campaign, and gave up the case, Clement wrote a gutsy letter:
"I resign out of the firmly held belief that a representation should not be abandoned because the client's legal position is extremely unpopular in certain quarters. Defending unpopular clients is what lawyers do."
Clement is moving from a wealthy legal powerhouse to a tiny, six-person lawyer group. How often have we heard punch lines like, "He swerved to avoid a snake but not a lawyer, yuk, yuk." Here's an attorney who swerved not to be a snake. A few more Clements and I'll slap on a bumper sticker announcing, "First thing is, let's kill all the lawyer jokes." Clement has a wife and three children. He's taking a risk. He's a profile in honor.
Both sides now
After King & Spalding dropped the U.S. House of Representatives, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli dropped the state's business with King & Spalding. "[I]t is crucial for us to be able to trust and rely on the fact that our outside counsel will not desert Virginia due to pressure by an outside group or groups," he wrote the firm in a letter. "Virginia seeks firms of commitment, courage, strength, and toughness, and unfortunately what the world has learned of King & Spalding is that your firm utterly lacks those qualities." The National Rifle Association followed suit: In a May 2 letter it said its decision was not based on any position on the Defense of Marriage Act but on the law firm's decision to drop a client.