In Hell There Will be Lawyers Without Clients or Law

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2001




Hofstra University School of Law




More than twenty years ago, moral philosopher Richard Wasserstrom framed the debate in legal ethics by asking two questions. Does the lawyer's duty to zealously represent the client, constrained only by the bounds of the law, render the lawyer "at best systematically amoral and at worst more than occasionally immoral in ... her dealings with the rest of mankind[?]" And is the lawyer's relationship with the client likewise morally tainted in that it generally entails domination by the lawyer over the client rather than mutual respect? Wasserstrom answered both questions affirmatively. Though these questions have preoccupied legal ethics scholars ever since, they are the wrong questions. They were off-base when posed and, if anything, are even more off-base today. The problem with Wasserstrom's questions is that they presuppose individual clients and settled law. The truly troubling questions in legal ethics arise, however, when clients are entities and the law governing these clients and the lawyer's relationship to them is contested. Class actions, the subject of this Essay, raise perhaps the most troubling questions of all.


Reprinted from Susan Koniak & George M. Cohen, "In Hell There Will be Lawyers Without Clients or Law," in Ethics in the Practice of Law 177, D. Rhode, ed., Oxford University Press (2000).

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