Let me start by saying, as someone whose company works exclusively with lawyers, I thought long and hard about posting this. . .
Today the legal industry suffered another self-inflicted wound to an already tarnished image in the way of an editorial on CNN’s homepage by attorney, Danny Cevallos. In his post, Cervallos questions the brave actions of Matthew Cordle – the young Ohio man who posted his heartbreaking story about killing someone because he was driving while intoxicated.
First Some Background
Over the past 7 years, I’ve had the privileged and unique opportunity to view the legal industry from within. I sat at a PILMMA event and saw a demonstration of how the legal industry has pushed automative safety. I’ve met lawyers like Jonathan Stein who has dedicated his career to battling the bottom of the corporate ethical barrel – Collection and Insurance companies. I met Anthony Colleluori who fights tooth and nail on behalf of individuals who have no where left to turn. I met Bruce Johnson who has done more to protect the first amendment than anyone alive.
Big picture – I’ve learned that the legal profession offers the largest counterweight for individuals when dealing with injustice from large entities – be it the police, corporations or the government. Few non-lawyers ever get exposed to this perspective and part of my professional mission is to help improve the perspective of the legal industry among the general populace.
Cervallos Paints Lawyers as Morally Bankrupt
So it was very disheartening to read an editorial on CNN today damning the actions of Matthew Cordle. Matthew’s powerful video has gone viral because he fully accepts responsibility for his action. Even while Cervallos recognizes the moral bravery in Matthew’s actions, he writes:
“Bravo right? Wrong.”
And goes on to pick apart the legal ramifications of the video.
“In making this video, it clearly appeared he was not coerced. He was not being interrogated or even interviewed by police. In fact, he volunteered this admission, stating that he was fully aware of the consequences.”
“Cordle’s voluntary mea culpa actually eliminated his strongest bargaining chip.”
Cervallos is unfortunately speaking for the entire legal industry when he prioritizes legal tactics with, in his own words, “doing the right thing.” This is the root of why lawyers have such a persistently tarnished reputation. The fact that Cervallos is most certainly correct from a legal perspective is irrelevant to almost everyone outside of the legal profession. Step outside of the legal world for a minute and think about how non-lawyers would respond to this statement from Cervallos:
“While this may have appeared a morally correct thing for Cordle to do, our justice system can actually penalize those who “do the right thing” and volunteer admissions.”
Fighting drunk driving while recognizing the legal ramifications of sharing a gutwrenching story “may have appeared a morally correct thing”! The editorial unfortunately doesn’t offer any suggestion for what would have been a more moral action and completely misses the point that Cordel clearly was placing his priorities above the legal system. And this is where Cervallos misses the forest for the trees. Cordel’s video will educate and certainly save lives from drunk driving accidents. Suggesting that the legal industry as a whole views this as a mistake sends a very wrong message: that lawyers are always available to supplant morality and courage.
Unfortunately the actions of the Stein’s, Colleluori’s and Johnson’s of the legal world rarely get this kind of coverage. But they should.