Volume 36

Lawyers’ Obligation to Decline Representation for Morally Reprehensible Clients in Animal Law

by Hana Khan-Tareen

The legal system often requires lawyers to deal with people exhibiting morally questionable conduct. Whether it be intentionally lying when entering a contract, stealing someone else’s property, or testing animals in laboratories, lawyers may find themselves representing people who have exhibited behavior that at least some of society believes is immoral.

For the purposes of this paper, the term “morally reprehensible” is defined as conduct that a significant portion of society would view as unethical or immoral. As discussed below, moral values differ across people and jurisdictions, and there is no one singular moral code that all people follow for an indefinite period of time. However, where a considerable part of the public recognizes that the ethi- cal considerations underlying a given decision go against its own, this creates an ethical debate between those who agree with the decision and those who do not. Under the following analysis, this decision would be considered morally reprehensible.

During law school, I worked in the animal law field for one semester. Whether the topic was hunting, farming, breeding, or tort claims for abused animals, there was always a sense that legislators and judges are missing what the public wants. Where it was clear to me and my classmates how animals should be treated in any given area, it seemed as though the government’s reasoning went the opposite direction. Albeit there are several caveats that need to be explained in this sit- uation: my classmates and I are certainly not representative of the entire United States population, the organization I was working for and being taught by was not an unbiased opinion in the field, and the decisions being made by the government certainly supported at least one party’s interest in any given topic. Nonetheless, given our government is a representative democracy, the consistent decision-making against our personal ethical codes felt inherently wrong, especially in the areas of law where the public’s views have shifted or grown.

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