What Is a Lawyer Good For?

The City University of New York has a law school that apparently is very far left. At this year’s commencement ceremony, a graduating law student who was elected by her classmates as their representative delivered a far-left screed:

A graduate speaking at the City University of New York’s law school commencement called for a “revolution” to challenge oppressive institutions in the US — name-checking the “fascist” NYPD, military, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the prison system.

Future lawyer Fatima Mousa Mohammed, a Queens native who was selected by the graduating 2023 class to speak during the May 12 ceremony, praised CUNY for supporting student activism — but said the school still failed students by supporting such institutions as the city’s Police Department and country’s armed forces.

“Like many of you, I chose CUNY School of Law for its articulated mission, ‘Law in the Service of Human Needs,’ one of very few legal institutions created to recognize that the law is a manifestation of white supremacy that continues to oppress and suppress people in this nation and around the world,” she said.

There is an irony here. Ms. Mohammed’s family most likely has immigrated to the U.S. rather recently from a place that is, in fact, oppressive.

Fatima Mousa Mohammed

She spouted the usual far-left drivel:

“Systems of oppression created to feed an empire with a ravenous appetite for destruction and violence. Institutions created to intimidate, bully and censor and stifle the voices of those who resist,” she said.

Not a bad description of contemporary liberalism, but I don’t suppose that is what she had in mind.

The future lawyer slammed CUNY for continuing “to train and cooperate with the fascist NYPD, the military.” She also blasted the school for continuing “to train [Israeli] soldiers to carry out that violence globally.”

She called on her fellow grads to dismantle capitalism, telling them she hopes their rage becomes “the fuel for the fight against capitalism, racism, imperialism and Zionism around the world.

Ms. Mohammed’s crazed diatribe got considerable attention, I think because the New York Post publicized it. Now the CUNY administration is scrambling, mostly on account of her bigoted attack on Israel:

It took more than two weeks for top officials at the City University law school to denounce the May 12 commencement speech of 2023 graduate Fatima Mousa Mohammed as “hate speech” — in which she labeled the NYPD as “fascist” and accused Israel of indiscriminately murdering Palestinians.

“Free speech is precious, but often messy, and is vital to the foundation of higher education,” said the statement released Tuesday by CUNY board of trustees chairman Bill Thompson, vice chair Sandra Wilkin and Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez.

“Hate speech, however, should not be confused with free speech and has no place on our campuses or in our city, our state or our nation,” said the CUNY executives.

“The remarks by a student-selected speaker at the CUNY Law School graduation, unfortunately, fall into the category of hate speech as they were a public expression of hate toward people and communities based on their religion, race or political affiliation. The Board of Trustees of the City University of New York condemns such hate speech.”

The Board was right to denounce Ms. Mohammed, if wrong about the hate speech/free speech dichotomy. But I want to focus on something different: Mohammed’s exhortation to her fellow law school graduates to fight for leftism:

“So one client at a time, one case at a time, one hearing at a time. We will show up for our communities,” she said.

“We will show up for ourselves, and we will protect the fight that brings us all closer to the fall of all oppressive institutions, a reality that is only myopic and unrealistic to the oppressors but is the inevitable future for the oppressed, for oppressed people everywhere.

“For greater empires of destruction have fallen before. And so will these. So to the class of 2023, the fight begins now,” she said.

Is that over the top? Yes. But the idea that lawyers have a general mandate to make the world a better place is mainstream. I recently attended a law school graduation at which one speaker after another urged graduates to use their law degrees to improve the world. Most attendees probably saw this as the usual pompous bloviation, but I think it is much worse than that. The idea that the job of a lawyer is to try to make the world a better place fundamentally misconceives the nature of a lawyer’s job, and is pernicious.

Of course, the system in which the American lawyer participates does make the world a vastly better place, by implementing the rule of law, a critical bulwark of civilization. But the distinctive feature of being a lawyer is that the lawyer never acts for himself. He always acts for a client. His opinions are, generally speaking, irrelevant.

Your client wants to develop a strip mall. Will the strip mall make the world a better place? Who knows? Who cares? Certainly not the lawyer. His task is to advance the interests of his client, not to second-guess the client’s objectives, as long as they are legal. It is up to the client to decide that, for him at least, the strip mall will improve the world, presumably by making a profit.

In some cases, a lawyer’s work will make the world a worse place. This is generally true for criminal defense lawyers. If a criminal defense lawyer practices his craft successfully and gets his client off, the world in all probability is made worse, since the client was almost certainly guilty and now will be turned loose to commit more crimes. But that is none of the lawyer’s business. His job is to defend his client, period. It is the system, not the effects of a lawyer’s efforts in a particular case, that makes the world a better place.

I am afraid that many thousands of lawyers have been turned loose to operate under a fundamental misunderstanding of their role. They have been told to be, not humble servants of their clients, but arrogant, free-floating advocates for leftism. As such, they have the potential to be an extremely destructive force. They may undermine the very basis on which our system does, in fact, produce an enormous amount of good: the rule of law.

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