I wasn't surprised, last summer, when my old friend Gloria Allred went after me for representing Roger Ailes, the late former president of Fox News, who died before he had the chance to defend himself against charges that he vehemently denied.
I know the mantra well: Everybody needs a lawyer, but they don't necessarily need you.
I had fought on the front lines with Allred for decades to protect women from the horrors of sexual assault. Allred would never have represented Ailes.
For me, it was different. Yes, I believe every lawyer has an obligation to follow her ethical compass in her professional work as well as her personal life. I did. I believe in loyalty.
God forbid, but someday you may be looking at total ruin because of charges that are simply not so. With your life and career on the line, you'd need to hire a lawyer, who would become the one person, outside your family, you could totally trust — bound by law to keep your confidences. Your new best friend would most likely be a perfect stranger whom you interviewed once or twice and then entrusted with your life. When Ailes called me, he was calling an old friend, someone whom he had stood by, and who had stood by him, for decades. I worked at Fox News for almost 20 years (until I represented Ailes); I knew Ailes for 30. He was my friend; he needed help; and the caricature I read in the newspaper was just not the man I knew. Someday, I will be free to explain. In the meantime, I let the articles attacking me wrap tomorrow's fish.
So I wasn't surprised when Allred publicly disagreed with the decision of her daughter, Lisa Bloom, to take on Weinstein as a client, particularly given the fact that Bloom had a miniseries in development with Weinstein. And it's not as if Bloom and Weinstein were lifelong friends. What made her decide to do it? I don't know.
But unlike her mother, I think it's Bloom's business, not mine or anybody else's. Everybody needs a lawyer, but they don't need you: That means you have every right to decide for yourself what cases you want to handle (within imposed limits if you practice in partnership with other people). What we lawyers don't have, in my book, is the right to judge others for the choices that they make. They have their ethical compasses. Once you recognize that a person has a right to a lawyer — and certainly Weinstein has both the right to a lawyer and the need for one — who am I to criticize the lawyer who steps up to represent him? If everyone operated by the same compass as Allred, the man would have no representation. That is far worse.
There is a growing and disturbing tendency to confuse lawyers with their clients, or rather, to sit in judgment of a lawyer based on the clients he or she represents. It's disturbing because it means that those who do the most sacred duty of a lawyer — to represent those who are truly reviled, to be willing to stand up for an accused terrorist or a child molester — end up being punished for it, denied judgeships and appointments, forced to explain the ethical duties of a criminal defense lawyer during Senate confirmation hearings (if they ever get that far).
The harder question, for me, at least, is not why Lisa Bloom took the case — that was her decision to make — but why she quit or was fired literally days later. Was she fired for not handling things properly? OK. That is the client's call, and if there's fallout, he has no one but himself to blame. It would be more troubling if she quit because she realized her client's reputation might rub off on her.
Everyone deserves a lawyer; they don't necessarily deserve you. That's your call. But once you agree to represent someone, you don't sit as judge and jury to your client. Your job is to be his or her advocate — which, when everyone is shooting in your direction, might mean you are one of the only true loyalists he or she has. And that is a sacred duty.
To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.