Elihu Root as a Paragon of Professionalism?: Fiction is Stranger Than Truth

File:Elihu Root, bw photo portrait, 1902.jpg
Elihu Root

In my legal ethics session on “Advising Clients,” we discuss the principle that a lawyer should exercise independent professional judgment and provide candid and honest advice to the lawyer’s client—whether or not the client likes the lawyer’s advice. In fact, Louisiana Rule 2.1 requires as much. In this regard, I mention Elihu Root, a distinguished New York lawyer from the early 20th Century, and hold him up as a paragon of professionalism for his famous quote: “About half the practice of a decent lawyer consists in telling would-be clients that they are damned fools and should stop.”

As it turns out, perhaps Elihu Root wasn’t as noble as legend has it.

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