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Q: What are the ethics behind “Let’s kill all the lawyers”?

By Linden Barnes, Senior Ethics Lawyer
LSJ Issue 74, February 2021


A: We certainly can question the ethics of anyone who throws that quote at us, aiming to hurt. However, I suspect that most people who bandy it around are unaware of its context – that it is said by someone of questionable character advocating the overthrow of institutions does put a rather different spin on it.

And how does this relate to our daily professional ethics? Well, first, Shakespeare arguably was defending our profession, not undermining it. More prosaically, it shows how misleading a statement can be, which is a constant ethical dilemma put to me by callers to the ethics line.

How often, when we reconsider what we have put forward on behalf of our client, do we wonder whether we said enough. Is what we said misleading without more? We might understand what we meant, but will the recipient do likewise?

It is vital to consider the circumstances of the recipient. Are they a busy judge only given a snapshot of the matter? Are they a self-represented litigant who does not understand legal terms? Are they a colleague who, like us, is trained to interpret communications cautiously?

My rule of thumb is as follows:

  • if you are worried
  • if you have rung the ethics line
  • if you are lying awake at night
  • it probably is misleading. 

Correct it and regain your sleep – “Nature’s soft nurse”, as the Bard rightly called it.