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Ethical for Lawyers to Profit Off Their Client's Life Story?

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on March 08, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In this digital age, celebrities are anointed every day. Some of these celebrities are famous not because of their entertainment value, but because of their shock value. Criminals and other individuals who have run afoul of the law grace our newspapers every day.

Americans also seem to be tirelessly consuming their stories. Famous criminal trials have spun off book deals, movies, and have inspired television shows.

This trend poses an ethical question for all attorneys, addressed in an article written by Diane Karpman in the California Bar Journal: should lawyers be allowed to profit off of their client's life story?

It seems especially pertinent given the judgment against Dr. Conrad Murray in the Michael Jackson trial, Karpman points out. Rumors abounded about how the beleaguered doc could have afforded his legal defense.

Karpman highlighted a California case decided in 1982, Maxwell v. Superior Court. The court decided in that case that lawyers could have agreements with clients for their story. In that specific situation, the consent to the client story fee agreement was detailed, and seemed like an informed decision.

Some lawyers might feel that this decision isn't necessarily doing clients any favors. Especially considering that clients that do decide to partake in these deals likely are embroiled in some sort of financial difficulty.

It might be true that some attorneys may be more or less compelled to follow certain strategies for their clients in order to get a more salacious trial.

But hopefully, lawyers who enter into these agreements (if they are valid in their jurisdiction) are upholding their legal standards and zealously advocating for their client regardless of their financial stake in their client's story.

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