Lawyers have always played prominent roles in presidential administrations. Depending upon their positions and proximity to the chief executive, lawyers fulfill functions that range from traditional courtroom-related advocacy, to providing legal advice, to serving as public spokespersons. These lawyers can be political appointees, nonpolitical civil servants, or private attorneys retained to represent more personal presidential interests. Whatever their position or role, such lawyers are subject to the same ethics rules and professionalism ideals that guide all members of the bar. However, the ethical issues they encounter are often uniquely complex and the stakes extraordinarily high.
Fundamental ethical questions abound in lawyering for the President—Who is the client? How far is too far in terms of advocating a legal position? When, if ever, is it appropriate to follow directives from the President? What is the proper balance between privileged communications and the public’s right to know? This Symposium will examine how lawyers—public and private—dealt (or should have dealt) with these and other difficult questions in relation to various administrations. Particular attention will be given to certain lawyering actions taken during the Trump administration, including: (1) defending against allegations of presidential wrongdoing; (2) pursuing post-election litigation on the President’s behalf; and (3) responding to requests or directives from the President on legal matters. The complicated ethical challenges presented by these examples are representative of those that lawyers have faced in previous administrations and will undoubtedly continue to encounter in lawyering for the President.