Wednesday, January 26, 2011

87A Installment. Ohio bar: Collection agency for the banks—The Hassan Jonathan Griffin matter—Part 2. Should all lawyers be narrow-minded moralists?

2nd in Hassan Jonathan Griffin series

While the State of Ohio is inconsistently harsh on lawyers, in its pluto-moralism, Griffin's prudential detractors are psychologically clueless. They pronounce that Griffin's financial incompetence disqualifies him for the law, and his weakness and passivity disenable him from intervention for others. But aggressiveness when fighting for others' rights, meekness and conflict-avoidance when asserting their own—for example, acquiescing to state-bar "discipline"—is emblematic of attorneys' character.

As to financial skill,
numerous geniuses have handled their money unwisely, and a lawyer minority handles any; public defender Griffin doesn't. To insist Griffin's financial incompetence should disqualify him for all lawyerly endeavor forces a rigid and narrow template on bar admissions. (But we needn't go that far, as the Ohio bar neither sought nor obtained—besides Griffins failing scores on three state-bar exams—facts bearing on any skill.)

"Savvy businessman" as professional character template, with other narrow-minded attitudes, creates our non-diverse profession. When the state bars exclude candidate lawyers for want of financial skill and business shrewdness, they eliminate professional understanding of the plight of millions of debtor clients. Then, we're stuck with the likes of the Ohio Supreme Court justices, who consider debtors despicable shirkers of their "obligations."

Like the justices, we little understand hardship outside personal experience and much understand it within. A sympathetic rant by a co-editor of the blog Above the Law—the name expressing its mildly cynical anti-lawyerism—illustrates the point. Co-editor Elie Mystal voiced out-of-character sympathy because his suffering—no job prospects, no way to pay his student loan—is direr than Griffin's. When a friend queried how Elie, with his abysmal credit rating, could ever buy a house, Elie replied that landlords reluctantly take him as tenant. Personal experience shaped Elie's attitude toward school-loan debtors, but it touched only that narrow attitude. Since we sympathize with like ordeals, law needs broad diversity of experience, including poverty and debt.

Ethicist Brad Wendel, notably, opposed character and fitness clearances as early as 2007, when he decried them as irrelevant and obsolete, procedures debunked as "the fundamental error of attribution," the folly of explaining others' behavior—but not our own—as caused by stable character traits. Usually pressure of circumstance decides: typically, contrasting personalities behave the same in identical social contexts. The sagas of Elie Mystal and Hassan Jonathan Griffin instantiate the principle: their common "trait," planlessness, results from enduring the same raw deal.

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