The Infamous Volume 7 of CJS in Cyberspace: Why One “Should Not Hire an Attorney”

Take a look at this website. This kernel of wisdom has been traveling about the “intertubes” for some time and is evidently designed to make people even more distrusting of lawyers than they already are (and perhaps should be).

At issue is section 4 of the Attorney and Client article in volume 7 of CJS. It includes the statement that an attorney’s first duty is to the court and to the public, and not to the client. Further, it is elsewhere stated that the client is a “ward of the court.”

While I believe that the internet writers are misconstruing it, I can understand the outrage over its implications since one would think that his high-priced attorney was working for him and not the court.

However, there is a problem. These internet references are to an out-of-date version of Volume 7. The most recent version is from 2004 and it does not contain quite the same language as the version cited on the internet.

In the 2004 version, this issue is covered in section 3 of the article which states, in summary, that the attorney has a dual obligation to both the court and to the client:

An Attorney acts not only as a client’s representative, but also as an officer of the court and, accordingly, has a duty to serve both masters.

The quotation above is based upon a 1991 case from Tennessee. Admittedly though, a 2001 Ohio case also cited in the footnote states that an attorney’s first duty is to the court “since the attorney assumed his or her obligations toward it before ever having a client.”

While the older text that is circulating around the internet is more inflammatory in tone, the newer text is more balanced (although nevertheless citing to certain decisions where the court does suggest that the primary obligation is to the court). Also, the “ward of the court” statement no longer exists whatsoever in the newer edition.

In the end, lawyers are regulated as any other profession and must serve the system in which they take part. The statement circulating the net isn’t much different than one holding that doctors must follow best practices or certain ethical rules even where it conflicts with a patient’s desires or demands. As officers of the court, attorneys must take care that certain rules are not violated despite the impression (or reality) to members of the public that these rules are serving ends that are political or otherwise self-serving.