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Ethical Dilemma: Taking a 'Good' Case for a 'Bad' Cause

If you haven't already, you will eventually have to interact with a client who doesn't share your values, or one that might even want to do something that runs contrary to your personal beliefs. And while you're not supposed to be a judge of morals, looking out for the best interests of an individual client can often involve more than just advising about the legal consequences of an action.

But what do you do when a potential client comes in with a winner of a case that runs contrary to your personal beliefs? (Like this one being championed by the ACLU on behalf of a high-schooler who is a pro-gun advocate mistreated during a school-sanctioned walk-out/anti-gun rally, after the Parkland school-shooting.)

Can You Be an Effective Representative?

When you're considering taking on a case or client that you may find morally reprehensible, you probably should ask yourself whether or not you will be able to be an effective advocate for that client, or whether you are just planning on getting paid to issue an opinion that litigating is not advisable (and you won't do it)?

After all, if you don't understand the client's perspective, or can't relate to their goals, will you be able to effectively negotiate a compromise? Or advocate on behalf of that client knowing that it may impact your public reputation? Or look at yourself in the mirror? These questions are not rhetorical, and can't be answered generally. These are individual to each attorney, and will likely vary on a case by case basis.

ProTip: You can always refer potential clients with controversial, or unpopular, civil rights cases to the ACLU -- They don't take sides, they take civil rights cases.

Should You Discuss Your Personal Beliefs With Clients?

Whether or not you should discuss your conflicting personal beliefs with a client also requires an individualized assessment. If you haven't figured it out yet, if you're not taking the case, you probably don't want to go into the why ... especially if it's due to personal or religious beliefs. You don't owe anyone a reason for turning away their case. As the saying goes, "the bad clients you don't take will be the best money you never made" - so don't waste any more time than you have to on one.

If you are going to take the matter on, you might want to broach the subject to give the client the opportunity to change their mind, particularly if you expect the client to pay a retainer, or any upfront costs for your services.

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