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Is a good lawyer just considered good if they keep their confidences with their clients and win their cases? Or is their more to a good lawyer? I think there should be much more. Lawyers should be obligated to doing the morally right action even if it means losing the case. This is what the moral agent concept suggests. Considering this concept, we may no longer believe that a good lawyer is simply an effective legal advocate. Rather, a good attorney should be effective morally, as well as representing his client’s cause. It is because of this that one cannot conclude that a good attorney is one who just wins cases. A lawyer is not just a good legal advocate. An attorney must conduct himself in the behavior of a morally good person and practice desirable character traits.
I believe that the moral agent concept is the ethical way to conduct yourself as a lawyer. I will defend my thesis by offering reasons for my position, including moral theories, objections to my position using moral theories, and responses to the objections which are stated.
My first reason that the moral agent concept is ethical is there is a point when the moral agent will not worry about winning the case because to win the case would involve unethical actions. This reason is backed up by the moral theory deontology. The moral agent treats others as ends in themselves and not as mere means to winning cases. For example, a defendant in a murder trial confesses to his attorney that he is indeed guilty of the crime. The moral agent would not allow for this case to continue. The attorney would report to the authorities that his client is guilty. If the lawyer did not report this to the authorities and continued to represent his client, he would be treating the victim and the victim’s family as mere means to winning the case. Doing this would be unethical.
Someone might argue using deontology that in a circumstance where the lawyer reports his client after he admits to the murder, the lawyer is betraying his client’s trust and treating his client as means. A lawyer cannot swear to his client that everything, including unethical information, will remain confidential if he is going to end up telling on his client. Nobody would hire attorneys if they reported privileged information to the authorities.
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The attorney is definitely treating everybody as ends in themselves and not as mere means to winning the case. The moral agent is not going to win the case so he obviously cares more about people’s ends than winning the case. The moral agent puts morality before winning the case, because if he attempts to win this particular case, he is treating the murder victim and the victim’s family as mere means. By serving justice and putting the guilty party behind bars the attorney will be treating the murder victim as ends. The moral agent would definitely support this, because just caring about winning the case in this situation would involve unethical actions that the moral agent would not be willing to make.
A moral agent is loyal to his client, and would not betray his client’s trust. This is justified using the moral theory of virtue ethics, because it is very virtuous to be loyal to your client. Virtue ethics also suggest that a person does not want to be extreme in either too little loyalty or too much loyalty. The legal advocate concept expects the attorney to be too loyal to his client. If an attorney knows that his client is guilty of murder and does not turn him in, then he is being way to loyal to his client. Also, an ethical person would not defend a known murderer. If the attorney did his best and the murderer was found innocent, then the killer would end up back on the street ready to kill again. This would be very unethical.
Someone might argue that the moral agent would betray the trust of his client if the client confessed to something that goes against the moral agent, such as, murder or rape. An attorney should never betray the trust of his client. Utilitarianism would justify this argument by stating that the client’s unhappiness of being betrayed outweighs the lawyer’s happiness of serving justice. If the attorney lied to his client then he would be minimizing his client’s happiness. Also, the guilt of lying to his client would weigh heavily on his conscience resulting in the minimization of his happiness. Overall happiness would not be maximized in this situation.
The moral agent is not betraying his client. He is just making the ethically right choice by not allowing a know murderer to get back on the street. The moral agent would report his client to the authorities because it is the ethically right thing to do. Utilitarianism backs this up. The moral agent deciding not to defend a known murderer would maximize overall happiness. The unhappiness of the guilty client would be outweighed by the happiness of the victim’s family and also by the lawyer, who knows he made the ethically right decision.
The moral agent is backed up by deontology for another reason. The moral agent avoids harming others in the process of representing his client. This is treating others as ends because the lawyer is considering other people besides his client and himself in making his decision. Let’s say a lawyer finds out from his client that he is guilty of burglarizing a home in which 30,000 dollars is stolen from a safe. If the lawyer chooses to defend the guilty man, then he is making the home owner lose a substantial amount of money. The attorney would be treating the home owner as a mere means to the attorney winning the case. A moral agent would inform the authorities that his client is guilty. Informing the authorities of his client’s guilt would help treat the home owner as ends.
Someone might argue that the moral agent cannot harm others in the process. The moral agent makes the decision to defend criminals who have the potential to harm others. Therefore, the moral agent may be harming others in the process of representing his client. Deontology supports this argument, because the attorney is treating the victims and their families as means to representing his client.
To respond to this, the moral agent’s job is to defend people. The moral agent does not intend to harm others in the process of representing his client. It is up to the judge or jury to decide whether the defendant is innocent or guilty. The moral agent’s job is to defend his client, as long as he does not make unethical decisions.
The moral agent does not take money from clients for wrongful purposes. This practice is justified by the moral theory feminist ethics, which states that people react on emotions subconsciously. If an attorney is approached by a potential client who wants legal aide and accepts money for his representation knowing that the client is guilty, he is acting unethically. The attorney is acting unethically because he is taking money to defend a criminal.
Someone might argue that the lawyer is defending a client that has potentially harmed others or committed a terrible crime, so the lawyer may still be taking money from clients for wrongful purposes without even knowing it. If he practiced contractarianism, he would understand that behind the veil of ignorance everybody should have equal considerations, and the lawyer is not equally considering the victims of their clients.
To respond to this, the moral agent is doing everything in his power to defend his client as ethically as possible. It is out of the lawyer’s control if he is defending a client who is guilty if he is not informed of that fact. If the moral agent knew that his client was guilty, then he would not defend him.
The moral agent concept stresses that it is important to win cases in an ethical fashion. This is important if our society wants to be ethically intact. The moral agent concept also stresses that it is possible to be both a good lawyer and an ethically sound lawyer at the same time. This proves that no matter what the profession, it is possible to make good ethical decisions and still be good at what you do.