The Obligation to Defend Unpopular Clients.--

Gail Heriot at the RightCoast posts on the appearance that Ropes and Gray may have ceased to represent an unpopular client because of opposition from Harvard law students. The unpopular client was Catholic Charities of Boston:

If yesterday's Boston Globe story is to be believed, the estimable Ropes & Gray attorneys may have been intimidated into abandoning an existing client by a group of (gasp!) unhappy Harvard law students who threatened not to like them anymore.

Up until two weeks ago, Ropes & Gray represented Catholic Charities of Boston, which in addition to its other charitable work, provided adoption services. In particular, it excelled in "hard to adopt cases" in which the child involved was older than the average adopted child, handicapped, or bore the scars of abuse or addiction. Catholic Charities came under fire, because its policy was not to place children with gay couples, and Massachusetts law now prohibits adoption agencies from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. Catholic Charities felt it could not abandon Catholic teachings in this area and apparently sought a religious dispensation from the law.

This did not sit well with Harvard's gay and lesbian students, according to the Boston Globe. . . .

Of course, Ropes & Gray does not admit that it was intimidated by a bunch of law students. (Startlingly, however, it does not deny it.) But the ONLY acceptable response to a bunch snot-nosed brats telling it whom to represent is to tell them to take a hike. If Ropes & Gray had been even considering terminating its representation of Catholic Charities for any reason before receiving the student threats (or even a whiff of threats), it should have insisted on continuing once that message was received. And that would be true whether the students were angry because Catholic Charities opposes gay adoptions, angry because it supports them or just plain angry. Even appearing to cave to such tactics is inappropriate. And an attorney who fails to understand this isn't fit to appear before a court of law.

If law students begin lobbying to prevent lawyers from representing unethical or unpopular clients (and I don't pretend to know precisely what happened with Ropes & Gray), I would think that reformist students would start with their own law school criminal clinics, where in most clinics a large number of their clients have done very bad things to innocent people. Or maybe idealistic students can switch their law school criminal clinics to working on the prosecution side to avoid representing the most unpopular clients (though, of course, not all prosecutors are always ethical).

If this "reform" does not strike people as an attractive switch, then perhaps they might take seriously Professor Heriot's admonition to continue to represent unpopular clients.