Job Searches, Legal Ethics, Reader Polls

And This Is How We Turn Good People Into Unethical Lawyers

This cheese isn’t a good deal.

Today’s story about a law student bound for prison has me thinking about how regular people become criminals. The story of Marc Gersen is the kind of thing books are made of; it’s big and bold and colorful.

But on the smaller scale, people are pushed into unethical decisions all the time, and it rarely comes with the stark choices of, “Should I, or should I NOT, start a meth ring?” People, especially the kind of risk-averse people who end up in law school, don’t make one big decision to “become a criminal.” It’s a bunch of little decisions that incrementally take you from “normal, law-abiding citizen” to “bad actor.”

Today, we got an email from a person who is thinking about making an unethical choice out of desperation for a job. Why don’t you read her dilemma for yourself and tell her what you think she should do….

A reader sent us an email and asked if the ATL audience could weigh in on her career decision. This jobless recent graduate has an offer from an attorney who is allegedly unethical. Here’s how she describes her potential employer:

Negative reviews are everywhere saying his firm is a scam and he is a rip-off. This guy is being sued for stealing clients money. The gov’t issued a search warrant and confiscated his computers and clients’ files last year. I don’t know the result of this investigation.

The state bar also initiated the disciplinary proceeding for violating 29 counts of state business and professions code. They are recently discharged. He filed ch.7 to get rid of his debts and recently established a P.C. His ex-employee told me he was not a scrupulous guy and she did not want to get involved with him again. He has a very bad reputation in town. (But I live in a very big city, so I assume it may not be that fatal.)

She says that under normal circumstances, she would turn down the offer. But, she has no job and has bills to pay. Thus, her question to our readers:

So here is my question…

Is this really bad for an entry-level lawyer to work for an (arguably) bad lawyer? Is it an absolute NO? Which one is more important: get some experience or working at a right/good firm?

To put it another way, which one is worse: having no experience or working at a bad firm? I keep searching job postings and there is no opening for entry-level. Everyone looks for experienced lawyers. So I get the impression that no experience is the worst.

I don’t know what to do with this offer. Feels not right to accept this offer but cannot just forgo. So give me some advice — should I accept his offer?

This is how it starts. If she’s so desperate to get the job that she’s willing to work with a disreputable attorney, what is she going to be willing to do in order to keep it?

Young lawyers need to remember that generating clients has a lot to do with one’s reputation. It’s really not worth the risk of sullying your own long-term reputation for the short-term cash. It’d be better to work at McDonald’s while taking on clients for free than drawing a paycheck signed by a guy nobody respects or trusts.

What do you guys think? Should this woman do what she has to do to pay some bills, or are some offers not worth the reputational risk?

Should this jobless law graduate take a job with an allegedly unethical lawyer?

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