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Drawing the Line Between Lawyering and Lobbying

The recent hubbub about the "Al Qaeda 7" -- Department of Justice lawyers who, while in private practice, represented Guantanamo detainees -- spurred a massive debate, nominally about legal ethics and national security. The legal community seems to have come down largely on the side of the attorneys, ripping Liz Cheney and others who question the loyalty of these now-public servants. Lawyers, we're told, understand their ethical obligations, and should not be barred from government work simply because they previously represented clients who kind of hate the government.

Walter Olson, at Point of Law, ponders the significance of this opinion vis-a-vis the hybrid firms that exist in Washington (and elsewhere). Josh Gerstein had a piece at Politico last week questioning the different treatment of lawyers and lobbyists. Lobbyists, under current federal rules, must observe a two-year "cooling off period" before the taint of their prior activities is considered to have abated.

As Olson points out, though, the line between a firm's legal work and its lobbying work is often hazy at best. Well, he says it much more eloquently:

Washington law firms have a great deal going: because their internal workings are necessarily somewhat opaque, their participants can inevitably engage in (and reap the high rewards of) some non-courtroom advocacy efforts on behalf of unpopular well-heeled clients without having to pay the public price of ostracism as lobbyists.

What do we think? Should some attorneys be assumed to be somewhat beholden to their former clients and eyed skeptically when they give up the car service rides home at night and enter the world of the GS-scale?

Posted by Eric Lipman on March 17, 2010 at 01:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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