Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

Confessions of a Legal Hitman

May 20, 2009

I am almost through the book “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” by John Perkins.  This is an amazing read, and some of what he discusses reminded me of an email I sent back in 2002 when I was in law school.  As part of my summer clerkship, I went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. to hear a partner from Arent Fox speak about doing pro bono legal work.  While I agreed with much of what he said, I found his role at a corporate law firm in conflict with many of the points that he made over the course of his talk.  While reading this book, my original email to Mr. Leval seemed even more relevant to the role of corporations and their attorneys in the subversion of the rest of the world.  For what it is worth, here it is:

From: Chris []
Sent: Wednesday, June 12, 2002 2:59 PM

Dear Mr. Leval:

I first wanted to say that I appreciated your speech yesterday
evening at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. I am glad that we had the
opportunity as young lawyers-to-be to be reminded of the complexity
of life and the need to remain firmly rooted in those values that
served to found the laws of this land.

As a rising third-year law student, I have been troubled by many of
the issues raised by your talk last evening. I am faced with the
prospect of joining the majority of my classmates as we head off to
become members of diverse corporate law firms practicing a wide range
of general corporate counsel. The difficulty, as I see it, is that
circumstances surrounding corporate practice have not changed
significantly in the half-century that has elapsed since the
Holocaust. Serving as counsel to IBM, for example, seems to me to be
not that far from serving as their counsel during the late 1930’s and
early 1940’s when the corporation supplied Nazi Germany with tools of

There is a new form of eugenics and genocide at work in contemporary
society and legal culture. American society no longer faces “horned
devils,” complete with identifying uniforms, nationalistic speeches,
and the avowed intent to destroy other human beings. Today, rather,
we face cloaked evils that progress, as you hinted, under the guise
of lawful acts and just motivations.

I struggle with the idea of representing GE who has helped
contaminate the rivers and bloodstreams not only of those creatures
in nature, but also of our human bodies, with their PCB dumping. I
cannot reconcile the idea of counseling Monsanto who completely
contaminated small towns, dumping chemicals that disrupt the bodies
natural balances, and that stood by their pesticides, including DDT,
when these chemicals were known to be causing cancer and other health
problems. I can not justify representing a company like NIKE that
refuses to offer a remotely livable wage, instead running their
operations in ways that parallel the early work camps of Nazi Germany.

I appreciate and I respect the challenge that you made to me and to
the rest of the group of young, aspiring attorneys in D.C. last
night. However, I fear that we have been lulled into complacency by
the face of the new evils. Today we hide from truths behind the cover
of honor codes, professional responsibility, and business ethics. I
fear that we will spend our days working for GE, Monsanto, Phillip
Morris, or Anheuser-Busch, and spend our nights looking for the “bad
guy” decked out with horns and a cape.

Evil has learned from its failures. As you pointed out last evening,
it is people like us that negotiated the deals, that drafted the
contracts, that supplied the Nazi effort, but I can’t believe that on
the whole, those people were as blind as now, in retrospect, they
seem. I am one of them. And the more that we continue to deny
evil’s new presence, the closer it gets to victory with its hidden,
slow, war of attrition.

I am curious what your take is on these thoughts, as I respect the
efforts you are making with your pro-bono work. Any advice or
insights that you have would be greatly appreciated.


Chris Nidel