Bruce Green, who directs the law school’s Stein Center for Law and Ethics, met with two dozen English-speaking students from Moscow State University on Wednesday to share insights into a wide range of American legal ethics topics including admission to the bar, discipline, and the regulation of corporate counsel.
The students came to the United States along with Moscow State University associate law professor Gayane Davidyan to learn about the U.S. legal system. Professor Green first worked with Professor Davidyan in October when he traveled to Moscow for a four-day legal ethics program that she hosts at her law school for Russian law students from across the country. Her program, co-sponsored by PILnet, a nonprofit organization, together with two global law firms, is unusual, because legal ethics is not traditionally studied in Russia, which does not have as well developed disciplinary rules and regulatory enforcement as in the U.S.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Green provided Davidyan’s students with anecdotes from his 28-year teaching career at Fordham as well as his volunteer work on the attorney disciplinary committee in Manhattan and other experiences relating to legal ethics. He also fielded students’ questions. Among the topics he discussed were the line between work that is reserved exclusively for lawyers and work that non-lawyers perform, and the differences between professional and personal morality.
“Don’t lie, cheat or steal,” Green said, describing wrongdoing that is most likely to get U.S. lawyers in trouble with the disciplinary authorities. It is difficult, the professor noted, for a suspended lawyer who stole from a client due to greed – rather than under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or depression – to be readmitted to the bar. There is no treatment to which the lawyer can point as evidence that the problems leading to misconduct have been resolved.
In response to a student’s question about lawyers who represent companies manufacturing dangerous and defective products, Green discussed how the ethics rules have evolved in the U.S. to address whether lawyers can be “whistleblowers.” He noted that there has been a great deal of debate within the bar about whether and when lawyers should have discretion to report clients’ wrongdoing to public authorities.
Roy Simon, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Legal Ethics at Hofstra Law School, and Philip Genty, a clinical professor of Professional Responsibility at Columbia Law School, also participated in the informal two-hour meeting at Fordham Law School.
Simon addressed the licensing process for lawyers and the court’s adoption of ethics rules. He set the stage by reciting some original verse on legal education, admissions and discipline inspired by the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.”
Often lawyers who run afoul of the law are working in isolation and either do not have someone to ask for ethical guidance or have not developed the ability to say “no” to new cases when they are already overburdened, Genty said in his remarks following Simon. This last example, Genty added, can lead lawyers to miss important court deadlines in their client’s cases, resulting in reprimands.
Genty praised his Russian counterpart, Davidyan, as “a very lonely and extraordinary voice” for legal ethics in Russia.
Davidyan has brought students from Moscow State University to America each year since 2012, she said after the meeting. This year’s trip included stops in New Orleans and Washington, D.C., before arriving in New York.
“It’s very important to become an ethical student first in order to become an ethical lawyer,” Davidyan said, adding she hoped one day she could teach ethics the way Green and the other professors did at American universities.