The good attorney-bad client problem

I admire effective lawyers. Usually. But when the lawyer is representing an evildoer, sometimes it's hard.

Take Steve Houze, the Portland defense lawyer, for example. He's good, and I mean really good, at getting lenient punishment, or none at all, for heinous criminals who can afford to hire him. I respect his skills, and his clients' rights to good representation, but there are times when I wonder whether the world wouldn't be a better place without him.

Another example was in the news this week. A lawyer in the Portland city attorney's office was roasted by critics for her work fighting disclosure of public records. A gifted lawyer, but with a terrible client, the City of Portland. She's good at what she does, but what she does is for a bad cause, on behalf of a collection of arrogant jerks.

It's probably wrong on my part, but I cut her even less slack because she's in-house counsel, as opposed to a freelancer like Houze. The bad client is her only client, and that makes it seem worse somehow.

Another subconscious prejudice on my part may be that she's a government lawyer, as opposed to a private one. Deep in the recesses of my mind, people who live on the taxpayers' money may start with a strike against them.

It's a little late in the game for me to be brooding about this sort of thing. But if the client is bad, can the lawyer still be good? After a while, doesn't the bad rub off? As a friend of mine once put it, "If you put a clean shirt and a dirty shirt in a bag together and shake the bag up? The dirty shirt don't get clean."


  1. There will always be sleazy lawyers. There will always be skilled people lacking a moral compass. What baffles me is how we have a justice system that gives such deference to legal chops of the kind Houze has. At some point, good lawyer or bad lawyers, trespassing is trespassing, a DUI is a DUI, and groping a 13-year-old on an airplane, to cite a case Houze has been defense for, is just that. Sure, I don't fully understand how the evidence for any of those crimes is processed and I'm sure for a good bunch of those case a good lawyer can rightfully punch a hole in the procedural stuff, the evidence-gathering, etc. But the fact that a good number of these guys can make lifelong careers out of successfully exonerating so many of these people leaves me puzzled.

  2. I don't think good defense lawyers exonerate people. They are striving to get the best result under the circumstances. A lesser sentence is not exoneration.


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