Advising a client as a lawyer involves much more than flipping open a book to flag the applicable statute. Sometimes, attorneys may be called upon to deliver advice or opinions about matters that plunge into a moral gray area.
Catholic University law students were invited to ponder the complexities of legal practice today during the second leg of the law school’s new six-part series, “Faith in Action,” which launched this semester.
Sponsored by the law school’s Law and Social Justice Initiatives program, the tongue-in-cheek title of the Oct. 15 program, “So My Client is an Ax-Murderer…” hinted at the direction the interfaith roundtable would take.
The program offered four challenging hypothetical legal scenarios, each designed to test the student’s understanding of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, but also to remind them that lawyers must bring ethics and a conscience to bear on their actions in addition to mastery of the fine points of the law.
The first scenario, written by discussion moderator Professor A.G. Harmon, dealt with profound intercultural differences an attorney may face.
“You represent a company who manufactures sonogram machines, which allow pregnant women to learn about the health of their babies, as well as their genders. The company wants to expand into India and you are to negotiate the contract with the appropriate parties. Because of the Indian culture that values boys over girls, you learn that the sonograms are very often used to identify baby girls so that they can be aborted. Your company needs this business very much in order to compete. What do you advise?”
Responding to this question and those that followed were three Catholic University faculty professors joined by a colleague from George Washington University, each representing the point-of-view of a different faith.
- Professor Sarah Duggin directs Catholic University’s Law and Public Policy Program. She has written and presented extensively in the fields of corporate law, the ethical obligations of corporate lawyers, and constitutional law. She serves as associate rector (part-time) at St. John’s Episcopal Church – Georgetown Parish in Washington, D.C.
- Professor Clifford S. Fishman is the co-author of Wiretapping and Eavesdropping and the first five volumes of Jones on Evidence. He is an active member of his synagogue and has led Jewish religious services around the country.
- Professor Melissa Moschella is assistant professor of philosophy at The Catholic University of America. Her work focuses on ethics, and political philosophy, especially bioethics and natural law theory. Moschella also speaks and writes on contemporary political and social issues, including religious freedom, parental rights and the defense of marriage.
- Dr. Ahmad Kazemi-Moussavi is a professor of Islamic law and modern Islamic developments, currently teaching at George Washington University. He served eighteen years as a lawyer and diplomat in the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs before 1980. He is the author Religious Authority in Shi’ite Islam.
The panelists offered different perspectives on the knotty ethical conundrums posed. Moschella reminded the student audience that according to Catholic social teaching “there are some things it is always wrong to choose to do,” while Duggin advised young attorneys “to build up credibility in the workplace, so that if you must confront your clients or bosses with ethical concerns, you’re seen as serious.”
The Faith-in-Action discussion concluded with an audience Q and A followed by a reception.