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25 Vt. L. Rev. 451 (2000-2001)


Years ago, when I was the resident guru in legal ethics at Washington and Lee University, in the little mountain town of Lexington, Virginia, a reporter from the daily newspaper in Roanoke asked me to identify the most serious ethical issue for American lawyers. My answer: "Money."

Part of that answer reflected the fact that American lawyers make about twice as much money as lawyers in other "developed" countries. And American lawyers make, on the average, fifty percent more than average Americans do. (Reference to averages and means here do not reflect how steep the incline is from the middle to-the top in American lawyer incomes.)

High earnings are in themselves a moral problem because they corrupt. For example, Professor Lisa Lerman recently explored the fiscal condition of sixteen American lawyers who have been removed from practice for stealing from their clients. Before they began violating our professional rules, these lawyers were paid remarkably well from their law practices. They were paid from $200,000, among the humblest, to $5 million a year at the top. This was legal income; they got it before they started stealing from their clients. Their average annual practice income, in the early 1990s, was about half a million dollars. It was, apparently, not enough.


Reprinted with permission of Vermont Law Review, 25 Vt. L. Rev. 451 (2000-2001) .



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