Former Solicitor General of the United States Paul D. Clement resigned his partnership at the King & Spalding law firm on April 25 in a selfless act of high honor and ethical principle. Americans should applaud his strong stand for the principle that lawyers must put the interests of their clients ahead of their own interests.
The law firm had decided to accept as a client the Bipartisan Leadership Group of the House of Representatives in its defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—the Act that makes clear that the term “marriage” in a federal law means only “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” The firm had begun its representation of the client. Subsequently, the firm changed its mind and decided not to represent the client.
Disagreement by the law firm’s partners with DOMA’s definition of marriage would not provide a reason to dump the client. The professional rules governing attorney conduct in the District of Columbia make plain that “[a] lawyer’s representation of a client…does not constitute an endorsement of the client’s political, economic, social, or moral views or activities.” And if a majority of the firm’s partners feared a political or financial backlash against the firm, that would provide no basis to dump the client, either, because the rules do not allow a lawyer to put his own financial, business, property, or personal interests ahead of a client’s interests. As Clement made clear in his letter of resignation from the firm, “a representation should not be abandoned because the client’s legal position is extremely unpopular in certain quarters.”
Fortunately for the people of the United States, the defense of the DOMA statute will continue to be in capable hands. Clement will continue to represent the Bipartisan Leadership Group of the U.S. House of Representatives as he joins the Bancroft PLLC firm. Americans spoke through their elected representatives when Congress enacted the Defense of Marriage Act; thanks to Clement’s representation of the Bipartisan Leadership Group, the American people will have their day in court.