What Justice Brandeis Taught Us About Conflicts of Interest

September 01, 2010
The Journal of the Legal Profession

Louis Dembitz Brandeis, as a Justice of the Supreme Court, is a godlike, mythic figure in the pantheon of American jurisprudence. As such a figure, though, he was not born of other gods without the flaws or perceived flaws of humankind. As in the case of many Justices, Brandeis was first a practicing attorney; a professional who confronted the daily nuances of conflict that inhere in one’s legal practice. Brandeis’s legacy as a visionary legal mind rests not only on his celebrated judicial works but also his reputed skill in both his corporate law and litigation practice. He was a real world lawyer who managed practical legal and business affairs on a day-to-day basis for several decades before becoming a jurist. This article examines the ethical bounds of his practice regarding client conflicts. More broadly, it reflects upon how the world looks at the role of lawyers, and how true legal statesmen can rise above the billable hour business for the public good, as did Louis Brandeis. 

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