Attorney Misconduct, Law Schools, Legal Ethics, White-Collar Crime, William Lerach

Is Teaching at Law School a Form of Community Service? Bill Lerach Thinks So

Victims of what anti-law-school bloggers have dubbed “the law school scam” might argue that working for a law school, or at least the kind of law school that saddles students with debt and can’t get them jobs, is closer to a crime than community service. There is certainly an argument that law professors who aren’t part of the solution are part of the problem.

But the notorious William Lerach, the securities plaintiffs’ lawyer turned convicted felon, believes that law teaching is a noble calling — and wants the community service credit to show for it….

Josh Gerstein of Politico reports:

Lerach, who pled guilty in 2007 to conspiring to obstruct justice and make false statements in connection with secret payments to plaintiffs in many of the the class action cases his law firm brought, wants to teach a class at the University of California/Irvine Law School to be titled: “Regulation of Free Market Capitalism – Are We Failing.”*

Lerach proposed teaching the class as part of the 1000 hours of community service he is required to serve in connection with his guilty plea, which also resulted in a two-year jail sentence, but probation officers rejected the class on the basis that UC/Irvine is not a charity akin to a church, a soup kitchen or Goodwill.

(No, those foul-smelling, poorly dressed people wandering around with vacant looks on their faces aren’t homeless — they’re just law professors.)

Lerach is appealing probation’s determination to a higher authority:

Now, Lerach is trying to get U.S. District Court Judge John Walter to override the probation office’s decision and declare that teaching such a course would be suitable community service, in addition to the other work Lerach has done for a disabled veterans’ business group, a German Sheperd rescue organization and the La Jolla (Calif.) Historical Society. Walter is scheduled to hear arguments on the issue Monday morning in Los Angeles.

Rescuing dogs versus training attack dogs of the future; it’s all good.

Here’s a description of Lerach’s proposed class (see here, page 3):

Dean Erwin Chemerinsky has asked Mr. Lerach to design a course on the “Regulation of Free Market Capitalism – Are We Failing,” which Mr. Lerach would teach beginning in January 2011. The creation of this course will be an extensive undertaking requiring substantial research and other work activities to create the course syllabus and the outlines for the individual course lectures.

The course would focus on the financial markets and public corporations, but would also touch on related regulatory failures in the anti-trust, consumer, and labor areas. The course would combine economic and political history, with legislative action and judicial decisions. Finally, the course would include a strong ethical component. Mr. Lerach would talk about the mistakes that he made and would counsel students on the temptations and difficult decisions they will face in the legal and financial worlds. Mr. Lerach would caution the students to practice law ethically and within the strictures of the law, and he would counsel them on the steps they might take to avoid his fate.

Tips like “don’t be a greedy SOB”? This doesn’t seem like wise advice to give aspiring lawyers (even at Irvine’s public-interest oriented law school).

The U.S. Attorney’s Office had a snarky yet sensible response to Lerach’s proposal:

Prosecutors took no position on whether the judge should OK the class, but they said that if he did Lerach should only get credit for the self-flagellating portion of it and not the time he spends discussing bad behavior of other individuals, regulators or corporations.

“The government respectfully submits that the numbers of hours of community service for which defendant receives credit should correlate directly to the number of hours that defendant devotes to lecturing the law students on the ‘mistakes that he made’ and ‘the temptations and difficult decisions they will face in the legal and financial worlds,’ and ‘caution[ing] the students to practice law ethically and within the strictures of the law, and . . . on the steps they might take to avoid his fate,'” prosecutor Richard Robinson wrote.

“By contrast, the hours defendant devotes to lecturing law students about economic and political history, and legislative and judicial decisions regarding financial markets and public corporations, while ‘touch[ing] on regulatory failures in the anti-trust, consumer, and labor areas,’… should be disregarded in calculating defendant’s community service hours.”

This seems reasonable. Teaching the law is an admirable endeavor, and some of the best people we know are law professors. But is law teaching akin to working in a soup kitchen? We think not — even if teaching civil procedure to 1Ls might sometimes feel like dishing out gruel to (future?) homeless people.

What do you think? Take our poll below.

UPDATE: Judge John Walter (C.D. Cal.) did not think much of Lerach’s request. He denied it — and benchslapped Lerach too (first link).

Lerach, feds spar over Wall St. woes class [Politico]

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