The Catholic University of America

L-R: Michael F. Curtin, partner, Curtin Law Roberson Dunigan & Salans; P.C.; Carolyn Williams, partner, Williams & Connolly LLP; William Wagner, professor of law and director of The Center for Law, Philosophy and Culture; Anthony Picarello Jr., general counsel for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; and Stephen M. Goldman, distinguished lecturer for the Columbus School of Law.

A Class in Hard Choices

The students who attended may look back someday and consider it one of the most important "classes" they ever took in law school.

On Nov. 6, four distinguished legal practitioners presented "Counseling Clients Who Confront Complex and Competing Obligations," a two-hour panel presentation illustrated with compelling case studies, that explored the complex, confusing and morally ambiguous choices that most lawyers who represent clients can expect to face at some time during their career.

The idea for the tutorial came from Columbus School of Law Dean Veryl Miles and Professor William Wagner, director of The Center for Law, Philosophy and Culture. They assembled an impressive panel of experts to discuss how a lawyer should proceed, and what should guide his or her decision making, when handling a client who is facing moral or ethical conflicts.

The panelists included Michael F. Curtin, a partner with Curtin Law Roberson Dunigan & Salans, P.C.; Stephen M. Goldman, distinguished lecturer for the Columbus School of Law; Anthony Picarello Jr., general counsel for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Carolyn Williams, a partner with Williams & Connolly LLP.

Each panelist staked out their own territory in the comprehensive discussion of hard choices and legal ethics.

Curtin, a 1965 law school alumnus and a former chairman of the law school's Board of Visitors, offered up a complicated trust and estate scenario that invited the students to think carefully about who the real client was, and what duties were owed that person, among a family feuding over a will.

Williams, widely considered one of the best complex civil litigators in the nation, shared two real life cases with students. She represented an insurance company in litigation arising out of the destruction of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 200l, and wove a fascinating narrative for her audience about some of the moral choices involved in the defense. Her firm also defended the manufacturer of the gel that is used in silicone breast implants, a product that was subject to a massive class action lawsuit some years ago. In that instance, said Williams, the legal team decided that the client had to split off their defense tactics from the other defendants to have any chance of surviving. It did so, and was rewarded with summary judgment in the more than 12,000 lawsuits that had been filed across the country.

Picarello, who has litigated many high-profile cases in the areas of free speech, free exercise and establishment clauses of the First Amendment, noted that in his own experience, law schools tend not to put much emphasis on teaching students how to evaluate the deeper questions of right and wrong that lie at the core of many legal questions.

Goldman, author of the recently published "Temptations in the Office: Ethical Choices and Legal Obligations," led students through three different ways to think about and practice legal ethics. All of them, he stressed, spring from the basic need to define ourselves as moral human beings.

"Sometimes the right thing to do is simply because of the kind of people we want to be," he said.

"Counseling Clients Who Confront Complex and Competing Obligations" was web cast in real time and can be downloaded and viewed from the video archives of the DuFour Library.