Some law firms require that student law clerks misappropriate their academic Westlaw and Lexis accounts for business use, and the Utah State Bar has issued an opinion condemning this theft as violating professional ethics. (HT: Legal Skills Prof Blog.) But such misappropriation isn’t new, and it isn’t confined to Utah. Why was any state-bar response to this scandalous practice so delayed? Why haven’t other state bars acted? Why has the Utah Bar issued only a warning? The Utah State Bar opinion answers: while the state bars are recognizing, only now, that these hirers commit disciplinable offenses, the state bar censures them for the wrong reasons. The Utah Bar’s reasoning showcases state-bar authoritarianism: fawning over the powerful, with only omissive contempt for the weak.
The criminal law on their side, Westlaw and Lexis can defend their commercial interests without the state bar’s help. The research services have acquiesced because they find advantage in the law firms’ unacknowledged use of student accounts—another way to offer a free trial. The Utah opinion is indifferent to the truly despicable. The students are offered clerking jobs, then subjected to a bait and switch. The firm asks for their time, then demands their souls. The state bars never wax indignant about deceitful acts and exploitative practices victimizing law clerks and associate attorneys.