Anti-Bias CLE: Lawyer Shaming: Legal Ethics, the Rule of Law, and Equal Access to Justice

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American lawyers have a proud tradition of representing unpopular clients, but they are increasingly shamed, harassed, and retaliated against for such representation. Lawyer shaming is a growing problem, both within and outside the legal profession. This course will help lawyers understand and combat lawyer shaming as a source of explicit, implicit, and systemic bias that threatens equal access to justice and ultimately the rule of law.

The rule of law promises equal justice for all. Fulfilling that promise in our adversarial system requires equal access to effective legal representation for all parties—no matter how unpopular. Indeed, it is usually the unpopular and marginalized that most need zealous advocacy to vindicate their legal rights. Such individuals and groups will remain underserved by the legal profession, however, if lawyers are criticized or targeted for their clients and the arguments made on their behalf. Pressuring lawyers to drop or decline controversial clients reduces the availability of effective counsel, making it harder for courts to get the law and facts right. Such pressure also undermines lawyer-client confidentiality and trust. As a result, lawyer shaming not only threatens the rule of law and denies equal justice, it also weakens public confidence in our adversarial legal system and the legal profession—especially among the unpopular, marginalized, and disadvantaged.

Lawyer shaming may be directed at attorneys representing a wide variety of potentially unpopular clients: for example, criminal defendants and suspected terrorists, protestors and controversial speakers seeking reform, immigrants seeking asylum, religious minorities seeking accommodations for their faith or a better education for their children, women seeking (and clinics providing) abortions, businesses in disfavored industries, even government bodies and political candidates. By discouraging lawyers from representing such unpopular clients, lawyer shaming may deny equal access to justice based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, family status, or political viewpoint, among other characteristics. 

This course will accordingly help attorneys understand lawyer shaming, its harmful consequences, and ethical implications. Every lawyer has an ethical duty to zealously represent their clients, strengthen the legal profession, and increase access to justice. The course will explain how the explicit, implicit, and systemic biases behind lawyering shaming can consciously or unconsciously influence the practice of even the most steadfast lawyers in ways that may violate their ethical duties to clients, the legal profession, and society at large. The course will teach lawyers how to be more aware of their own implicit bias against unpopular prospective clients and how to distinguish such bias from legitimate moral objections to representations they find repugnant. As a result, the course will help lawyers fulfill their ethical duties both to abstain from lawyer shaming and to resist its social, professional, and economic pressures. The course will also explore whether efforts by the bar to counter bias, such as ABA Model Rule 8.4(g), actually have the opposite effect by encouraging lawyer shaming and amplifying the bias of those with majority views on controversial questions at the expense of unpopular minorities.

CLE approval is still pending in some states, please check the CLE Status page found by clicking the CLE Info button below. If CLE credit is not approved in your state, you will receive a refund.


  • Stephanie Holmes, Founder, BrighterSideHR, LLC
  • Jonathan D. Urick, Associate Chief Counsel, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Litigation Center


As always, the Federalist Society takes no position on particular legal or public policy issues; all expressions of opinion are those of the speaker.

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