There’s No Middle Ground on Integrity

There are few things that we possess that no one can ever take from us. Foremost amongst them is integrity.  Only we can give up our integrity, and it seems as if people are doing so in droves. 

Perhaps giving it up is the wrong way to put it.  Selling it.  Cheap.  Doing whatever they have to do to get a case, gain popularity, make a buck, salvage a sinking practice.  The process of rationalization to justify doing what you have to do in difficult times is like a war, albeit an internal one, where we fight ourselves and our better judgment. 

We may know right from wrong, but we know what’s good for us at the moment.  We then struggle with ourselves to find a way to do what we want to do and make sense of it in a way that allows us to pretend we aren’t self-serving sluts.  We only fool ourselves, but we take comfort in those around us making similar choices and tell each other that we’re not bad people for making bad choices.

While doing something bad may not make us a bad person, selling our integrity does.  Once a person has done so, there’s no going back.  I had this discussion with Ken at Popehat the other day, in reaction to this post which linked to another post by a guy named Marshall, who, in my view, has no integrity. 

Ken’s use of his post wasn’t wrong based on content, but it was wrong, in my view, because I can’t abide anyone who has forsaken his integrity.  Ken wasn’t as concerned about it as I was, finding that a post floating in the ether that did the job of explaining something he wanted explained, was sufficient reason to use it.  I would have rejected that premise.  I will not bolster the failed reputation of anyone who has sold his integrity to cover up his failures in fact and in character.

The same occurred to me when I read Carolyn Elefant’s post about e-shaming as the alternative to bar regulation of lawyer’s online speech.  Nobody wants to be regulated, though anyone of even limited intelligence realizes that many have gone off the rails, lying through their teeth about themselves on websites and blogs, whether by use of stock content, scraping from others or just your basic, everyday, lies. 

There are also those who play upon the dull comprehension of others, coming as close to the line of deceit as they believe they can get away with, capturing the hearts and minds of those who aren’t swift enough to connect the dots or see through the marketing veil.  Though these are smarter people, they are more venal in the sense that they have sold their integrity just like the overt liars, but believe they have tricked us into believing that they haven’t.  It’s like a double loss of integrity, and the shame is that it works pretty well, provided you don’t think too hard or you or can be flattered into joining their choir.  Dumb people are easily flattered.

Carolyn notes that it’s unpleasant to deal with a “colleague” who has strayed.  No one wants to point fingers and call names. 

I simply don’t have it in me to publicize other lawyers’ ethical missteps, especially when they may not have known better. Sometimes I wish I did.

She suggests there’s an alternative.

In any event, e-shaming isn’t the only antidote to deceptive practices in the blogosphere. For me, a preferable option to e-shaming is e-lucidation: bringing unprofessional or unethical use of social media to a colleague’s attention either through back channels or an informative blog post, explaining the problems and identifying corrective action or a better approach. 
In some instances, this may work.  After all, there are some who are just too stupid to realize that they’ve sold their integrity, having been taken in by the social media gurus and marketers who have enticed them to the dark side.  But this takes a more time, is usually ineffective and tends to produce back channel anger, like “kiss my ass you jerk; I’ll do whatever I want. Who are you to tell me not to walk the street in hot pants?” It’s a nicer approach, but it presupposes good will and intentions.  When appropriate, it should be the first option.  Whether a momentary brain fart or just a lawyer who doesn’t get this whole internet thing, there are signs that a poke in the right direction can clean up a mistaken mess.

Unfortunately, it’s not always appropriate as the person who has sold his integrity knows exactly what he’s doing.  Ironically, not only will the back channel not work, but it’s likely to be seen as some sort of nefarious attempt at control and manipulation on your part.  Sweet Carolyn would become a monster for trying to be nice.  No good deed goes unpunished.

But there’s no chance it will work anyway, as is apparent by the rationalization apparatus hard at work.  when the person who has sold his integrity is fully aware of what he’s done, and has done so anyway.  He’s made a choice. 

We can educate the ignorant.  We can enlighten the foolish.  We cannot convert the venal.  We can only do two things.  We can publicly expose their duplicity, their deception, so they do not get away with it, and we can let others know, whether they are considering the sale of their integrity or taken in by the rationalization because they lack either the depth of thought or understanding to realize, so that they don’t follow the same path.

In a comment to Carolyn’s post, Mark Bennett, the Texas Tornado, provides an excellent explanation in context, distinguishing between the real meaning of ethics and justifying unethical conduct because one can skirt the rules.  We are lawyers.  Our responsibility toward our clients, ethics and integrity, will never be fully captured in any set of rules.  Indeed, it’s unfathomable that any set of rules could be created that would encompass the full meaning of integrity.

Our education and skills, whether in the courtroom or on a legal pad, will never be the total of what it means to be a lawyer.  Without integrity, we are just well educated used car salesmen.  Without the fear that someone will expose those among us who would sell their integrity for a buck, some lawyers, maybe most lawyers, will do exactly that.  And with them goes our profession.  We all become suspect, and rightfully so.

Those of us who have chosen to take a stand, to draw a line whereby we will not tolerate, acquiesce or enable those who have sold their integrity from enjoying the fruits of their deception, will be the targets of invective and attack.  So be it.

This is my profession and I will not stand idly by while you drag it into the gutter.  No one likes to be asked to pick sides, but there’s no middle ground when it comes to integrity.  Integrity is either the sine qua non of our profession or it’s not.  Which side are you on?

22 thoughts on “There’s No Middle Ground on Integrity

  1. ExPat ExLawyer

    What is the lack of integrity you’re complaining about? Is it completely external to your post here and dependent on readers clicking the links?

    I can understand links as necessary to give the full story, but I only have a very vague hint at the story from your post, which is not short. This post is either incomplete or tres inside baseball.

    I’ll now go and read the links because you sure did do a great job of stimulating my curiosity.

  2. SHG

    Aside from this post being long enough (too long?) as is, I’m always afraid that reference to an example sucks the broader point out of a post.  In this case, the examples are both old and well-worn, and need not be rehashed.  I don’t want to keep opening wounds or get into the same pissing matches. 

    People like concrete examples, but tend to fixate on them to the exclusion of the big picture.  Maybe this post will prove worthless for my failure to nail down some concrete details. but I would rather take that risk than name named names. 

  3. ExPat ExLawyer

    I read the link and the comments at Ken’s blog, and still am clueless about what this is all about.

    I have no doubt I’m slow. It’s early here in Mountain Time. The post imo would be a lot more useful if it were self-contained. Somebody, somewhere was unethical in a completely unexplained way.

  4. SHG

    Somebody, somewhere was unethical in a completely unexplained way.

    Yes, but no. That’s not what the post is about, and there will always be someone being unethical.  Do you find it difficult to find examples of lawyers behaving improperly on the interwebs?  If so, that’s a separate problem.

    Not every post calls out a concrete example of impropriety.  Sometimes, I just think funny thoughts.

  5. Beth

    All who commented thus far are “clueless” as to what this author is trying to get across? Mmmmmmm. How about this; SHG has restored my my faith. Maybe there might just be a lawyer or two out there who actually possesses integrity and cares enough to protect this one thing we leave this world with.

  6. ExPat ExLawyer

    I am clueless, though I have worked hard not to be. What is the unethical conduct complained of? I’m not in the least suggesting the undiscovered conduct at issue is ethical or should not otherwise be complained about. I read the Popehat post and the comments there.

    What is at issue?

  7. marty d.

    The feeling is say anything you wish about someone then issue a halfassed, snarky, insincere apology.Then you make yourself the poor, misunderstood victim. Intgrity is earned but is so easily spent. It is not regained in an instant and an apology does not restore it. If you are going to be a jerk, be prepared for the consequences. People have very long memories and your little apologies do not erase them.

  8. SHG

    Thanks Marty.  I was beginning to think that I went too obtuse on this post.  I appreciate that you got it.

  9. EdinMiami

    Because the word and the meaning lacks specificity, it would seem there is only middle ground. The issue with using a word like Integrity is its use as shorthand for other ideas and concepts.

    From Wikipedia:”Integrity as a concept has to do with perceived consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations and outcome. People use integrity as a holistic concept…”
    From Wiktionary: “Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code; The state of being wholesome; unimpaired; The quality or condition of being complete”
    An analysis of integrity should include a subjective and objective test. If it requires a subjective test, then it should follow that there are degrees of integrity. We might come a little closer with an objective test, but the problem becomes that within the aggregate of what constitutes integrity there remains very real subjective terms which have different meanings for different people. Two people, both having integrity unto themselves, could lack integrity as to each other. Granted, as a group, we may determine that one or the other has more integrity. However, it could be true the lesser of the two has more within a very specific area of his life.

    The other issue “integrity lost is lost forever” seems equally as wrong from the perspective that integrity by its nature must be learned. If it can be learned, it can be relearned or in the alternative, added too itself. The idea that it would be lost forever is then a function of someone else being unwilling to move past a previous transgression. There may be a very good reason not to move past it, but it doesn’t necessarily follow integrity cannot be regained. It just may not be regained in the eyes of the one who was transgressed.

  10. Andrew Barovick

    Transparency is part of integrity for lawyer/bloggers. Yet “Ken at Popehat” has been called that–“Ken at Popehat”– in your post apparently because he does not share his last name with the public. Certainly, it is not to be found within the Popehat site. Do you know the reasoning behind this omission?

  11. SHG

    My hope for you is that all the people you deal with in your life look to wikipedia for their moral relativism, and treat you accordingly.  No, actually, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

  12. ExPat ExLawyer

    To Andrew B: You do big medmal apparently. Criminal defense in a small jurisdiction involves DAs who don’t even wind up in contested elections the defense bar is so afraid of them. What great deals your clients will get during your campaign. Oh, and if you lose, plan to move. Plan to build up a new practice elsewhere, as you will be screwed.

    What’s your next question, why do we have secret ballots? Why were the pamphleteers anonymous.

  13. Andrew Barovick

    No, ExPat. Or is it Mr. Lawyer? My next question is, what is the point of your response to my post? The only part of it that’s clear is that you identify with “Ken at Popehat”‘s failure of transparency in the context of legal blogging. Yes, there is a time for anonymity, but it’s not when you want to be taken seriously as a blawger.

  14. ExPat ExLawyer

    What I was indicating is that there are plenty of good reasons to be anonymous as a blogger, particularly if you have a day job involving the law. I think Popehat is taken seriously. I think the content of the blogging can speak for itself.

    It’s Ms. ExLawyer. My name is Laura.

  15. Andew Barovick

    Sorry, Laura, but that doesn’t pass the smell test. I’m sorry if you and K at PH are unhappy at work, and afraid of offending your bosses and/or clients, but that’s your problem. Perhaps you both should consider positions where you can be truer to your work-relatated aspirations, and more comfortable with what you do for a living. Because right now, what you are trying to justify is having the ability to inject your ideas into the thought stream, without ever having to sweat the consequences or take any responsibility. That is called being chicken. It does not fit within the concept of integrity.

  16. SHG

    While I understand and largely agree with your point, Andy, I’m not sure this is an integrity issue per se.  While I know who both Ken and Laura are in real life, they both take the weight of their semi-anonymous posting by definition, risking that they won’t have the credibility that attaches from using their full, true names.

    Now if they posted under false names, such as “Scott Greenfield” and claimed to be someone they’re not, that would be entirely different.  By using pseudonyms, they alert readers that they are concealing their identities and thus accepting whatever limited credibility that brings.  They aren’t pretending to be any more than they are, or to achieve any greater credibility than they deserve.  In other words, you get what you pay for, and they have chosen to pay the price in credibility for posting pseudonymously.

  17. Paul Hoag

    My comment is on “Without integrity, we are just well educated used car salesmen.”

    As a well educated (former) used car dealer, I object to being categorically compared (profiled) to the sleazy, lying lawyers who have permeated the legal profession.

    I instructed my employees to always tell my customers everything we knew about a car, good and bad. Then we stood behind what we had said. I learned this manner of doing business from my father, who was honest way past the point of being blunt.

    In my 63 years I have been represented by five attorneys who were excellent lawyers and completely honest. They were proud of being lawyers and believed a good lawyer is an honest lawyer.

    The first time I saw a lawyer lie, I was shocked. Now I know it is always possible. When I first saw lawyers take on absurd cases just for the fee, I was disgusted. Now I expect it.

    For example, five years ago I was sued by a young lawyer (need a fee, any fee)for a meritless claim. It cost me $8,000 in a nuisance payment and legal expenses to get rid of it. The lawyer who brought the suit got a $1,500 fee plus $500 for expenses, and his client got a few hundred dollars after an initial demand of $25,000.

    Three years ago I was sued by my crazy (literally crazy, recently committed to a state mental hospital)former sister-in-law. The lawyer who first brought the case, a serious lawyer from a well respected firm, soon resigned out of embarrassment. The next two lawyers engaged went away after my lawyer showed them his file and they each concluded the claim was unfounded. Eventually my ex sister-in-law found a young women lawyer (nine months out of law school, pregnant and unmarried) who needed a fee. After three hearings, which included patently obvious perjury by my ex sister-in-law, a judge dismissed everything. My sister-in-law lost money (as did I), money she took from my youngest niece’s college fund. But the pregnant lawyer got a fee — never mind she took on a worthless case, a case that had she won would have been a miscarriage of justice, a case that depended on perjury, she got her fee.

    There are honest lawyers and there are honest used car salesman, let us distinguish on evidence of integrity rather than categorical assumptions.

  18. SHG

    Glad you got a chance to get that out.  Yup, there are good and bad all around.  Funny thing though; your own lawyers are honest and wonderful, and the lawyers against you are evil and malevolent.  Odd how that happens.

  19. Ken

    Gosh, Andrew, I really don’t know how I am going to struggle on without your good regard.

    “Do you know the reasoning behind this omission?”

    If only there were some mechanism on the internet, and on particular blogs, so search for words like “anonymity.”

  20. Ken

    Scott, as your post accurately reflects, we disagree. Just a couple of points:

    1. I disagree that linking approvingly to person X’s point signifies that you agree with or approve of anything else person X ever did EVAR. In other words, even taking your argument that the person in question lacks integrity, I don’t think linking to him suggests otherwise. Naturally you could come up with a reductio ad absurdium for this – “would you link HITLER?” — but I think it holds true in general.

    2. I disagree with your assessment of the person in question. I found his conduct awful that one time, but found his apology adequate. I disagreed with him on other times, but that’s not relevant to me.

    3. I respectfully submit that taking your approach — deciding that someone “lacks integrity” over an online fight, and never linking to him again — poses an unacceptable risk of narrow-mindedness. I like to link to people I disagree with, and people who disagree with me, and even people who have insulted me, because I think it keeps the mind sharper and the opinions better supported. I think you do that sort of thing as well, but I think that it would be too easy to broaden your exception in this instance to swallow the rule.

  21. SHG

    My problem isn’t linking, as I will link to someone about whom I’m going to say mean things just because it would be wrong to not identify the target and give the target a chance to defend himself.  But the crux is that you feel his apology was adequate. I don’t. Most others, including Turk, don’t. 

    It may be that you didn’t follow it close enough at the time, in which case I would suggest you go back and reread what happened. But you can’t because he deleted the stuff he wrote (and the comments that ripped him a new one) so nobody could go back and read it later.  Why do you figure he sanitized it?  Might it have something to do with being able to lie about it later, and the story he tells now is a monumental piece of bullshit.

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t believe as you do, but that I won’t link to someone that I believe is utterly lacking in integrity in a way that suggest his ideas are worthy of credit.  And yes, I thought your link was clearly an approval.  It makes no sense otherwise.

    There’s a clear difference to me between someone I disagree with, even can’t stand, and someone who is wholly lacking in integrity.  I see no issue in the exception swallowing the rule; we draw distinctions all the time, and this one is certainly clear.  As I said in my comment to your post, that’s my way.  If his lack of integrity doesn’t bother you, that’s your call.  But I thought, and still think, that he’s a mutt and doesn’t deserve recognition, by you, me or any other lawyer who believes in integrity.

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