In Praise of Unethical Conduct by Lawyers — Deceiving Other People, Lying to Judges, and Other Moral Behavior

Lecture Date



This lecture was based on Monroe Freedman's article, In Praise of Overzealous Representation - Lying to Judges, Deceiving Third Parties, and Other Ethical Conduct. The article, published in the Hofstra Law Review, is linked here.

Speaker Information

Monroe Freedman is a professor of law and the former dean at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University. For 30 years he lectured annually on lawyers’ ethics at Harvard Law School, and from 2007-2012 he was a visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

Freedman has received the American Bar Association’s highest award for professionalism, in recognition of “a lifetime of original and influential scholarship in the field of lawyers’ ethics,” and a Martin Luther King Award for “decades of work to advance human dignity and social justice.” Peers in the field of lawyers’ ethics have called him “the conscience of our profession” and have said, “If we had to pick the one person who first created modern legal ethics as a serious academic specialty, it would be Monroe Freedman.” The Journal of the Legal Profession concluded: “[Monroe Freedman’s] thinking, writing and lectures ... have been the primary creative force in legal ethics today, both in the practice of law and in legal education.”

Freedman’s first ethics book, Lawyers’ Ethics in an Adversary System (1975), received the American Bar Association's Gavel Award Certificate of Merit. The ABA Certificate refers to the book as “outstanding” in its examination of “the most difficult ethical problems a lawyer faces.” About three dozen favorable reviews of the book appeared, including those in the ABA Journal (“scholarly ... powerful”), ABA Litigation (“thorough and scholarly”), and the George Washington Law Review(“undoubtedly, the best book published in the field of legal ethics”). In the Harvard Civil Rights/Civil Liberties Law Review, NYU Professor Norman Dorsen called the book one of the few “monumental contributions to legal education in the past generation.”

His current book is Understanding Lawyers’ Ethics (4th ed., 2010) (with Abbe Smith). It has been required reading at law schools including Harvard, the University of California, Berkeley, the Unversity of Minnesota and Georgetown, is assigned or recommended at other law schools, has been used in training programs for the bar in Canada and is being translated into Chinese. The Professional Lawyer, published by the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility, calls the book “thoughtful and eloquent” and “idealistic in the best sense of the word, pragmatic, but not cynical, and rich with practical examples.”

Freedman has also written scores of article on lawyers’ ethics, including “The Professional Responsibility of the Criminal Defense Lawyer: The Three Hardest Questions,” which has been excerpted and reprinted more than four dozen times in scholarly publications. Professor William Simon wrote: “Suppose you had to pick the two most influential events in the recent emergence of ethics as a subject of serious reflection by the bar. Most likely, you would name the Watergate affair of 1974 and the appearance [in 1966] of an article by Monroe Freedman. ... Of the two events, Watergate is the most famous, but ... the least important.”

Freedman was the first legal scholar to argue that the Bar’s restrictions on lawyer advertising violate the First Amendment and to point out that the anti-advertising rules blocked information about lawyers’ services from less educated and less sophisticated people who most need the information. He was also the first to attack restrictions on trial publicity by defendants and defense attorneys, to argue that lawyers should be permitted to reveal information necessary to prevent death or serious bodily harm, to argue that law professors’ sexual relations with students should be recognized as unethical conduct; to argue that the lawyer’s decision to represent a client is a moral decision and subject to the moral scrutiny of others, and to analyze the ethics of coaching witnesses and to discuss the relevance of scholarship in behavioral psychology.

During the 1960s, Freedman served as chair of the National Capital Area Civil Liberties Union, was counsel to several civil rights organizations and was a consultant to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. An evaluative report in his FBI file, dated December 14, 1967, says: “Freedman has been a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and of the American Civil Liberties Union. He has been extremely outspoken, and his irresponsible mouthings have received an inordinate amount of publicity.”

Beginning in 1963, he was also the first volunteer general counsel of a gay rights organization, representing Dr. Franklin Kameny’s Mattachine Society. He currently consults pro bono in death penalty and Guantánamo cases.

At the request of Elie Wiesel, Freedman became the first executive director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. During Freedman’s tenure (1980-1982), the Congress approved the establishment of the council, the membership of the council was selected and approved by the president, the land for the Holocaust Memorial was found and its use to build the museum was formally approved by the government, and Holocaust Memorial Day was celebrated in the East Room of the White House with President Ronald Reagan presiding.

Freedman received an A.B., 1951, LL.B., 1954, and LL.M., 1956, at Harvard University. He has been listed for many years in Who’s Who in American Law, Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the World.