Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2006


Structured-finance transactions, Enron, Legal ethics, Torture memos, Holmesian bad man


Law and Society | Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility | Legal Profession | Litigation


When I tell people that I am a law professor specializing in legal ethics, they usually have one of two reactions: “Legal ethics—that’s an oxymoron!” or “I bet you always have a lot to do.” The second reaction is the more interesting of the two, because it rightly implies that legal ethics is a fascinating field, in part because lawyers are always thinking of new ways to get into trouble. Many run-of-the-mill lawyer disciplinary cases involve simple wrongdoing, such as stealing from client funds, which does not present conceptually interesting issues. Contemporary high-profile legal ethics scandals, by contrast, are made considerably more complicated by the attempt by lawyers, at least on a superficial level, to comply with the law. The Enron collapse and the torture-memo controversy present one of the central challenges for legal ethics—differentiating the act of aiding and abetting wrongdoing from transactional counseling and planning that avoids legal liability in a legitimate way. In the parlance of tax lawyers, the issue is how to locate the line between avoiding legal penalties (acceptable) and evading the law (unacceptable).

Publication Citation

Published in: Cornell Law Forum, vol. 32, no. 3 (Spring 2006).