The WSJ reports:
The future presidential contender worked for 15 years as a corporate litigator at the Rose Law Firm in Arkansas’s capital, longer than any other position in or out of government. Her portrait still hangs in the firm’s downtown offices.
Yet that chapter in her life has been all but excised from the official Hillary Clinton story. She hardly ever mentions it on the campaign trail. Her husband skipped past it when telling of her life story at the Democratic National Convention. Until August, it wasn’t even mentioned on her campaign’s official biography....
In her 2003 book, Mrs. Clinton writes only briefly about her work at Rose. She highlights a couple of cases, including her first jury trial, where she defended a canning company sued by a man who found the rear end of a rat in his pork and beans. He claimed he couldn’t kiss his fiancée because every time he thought about the situation he would spit.
Mrs. Clinton argued the man hadn’t suffered any real damages and because the rodent part had been sterilized it would be considered edible in parts of the world. She said the plaintiff won “only nominal damages.” Mrs. Clinton didn’t identify the name of the man or the company involved. ...
The bulk of her cases involved defending large corporations, a Wall Street Journal review of court records suggests. ...
“We hated seeing her on the other side of the table,” says Wade Rathke, founder of Acorn, who was friends with her husband at the time. “We had never been confronted with the reality of her as a corporate lawyer. But there she was and there we were. We didn’t win this one.”
So why doesn't Ms Clinton celebrate her past? After all, being a corporate lawyer is an honorable and highly socially beneficial career. As I wrote in Reflections on Twenty Years of Law Teaching:
Legal education pervasively sends law students the message that corporate lawyering is a less moral and socially desirable career path than so-called “public interest” lawyering. The corporate world is viewed as essentially corrupting and alienating, while true self-actualization is possible only in a Legal Aid office.
Our students get these messages not only in law school, of course, but also in the media. Films like “A Civil Action” or “Erin Brockovich” illustrate the general ill repute in which corporations—and corporate lawyers—are held, at least here in Hollywood.
In my teaching, I have chosen to unabashedly embrace a competing view. I tell my students about Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, who wrote that: “The limited liability corporation is the greatest single discovery of modern times. Even steam and electricity are less important than the limited liability company.”
I tell them about journalists John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, whose magnificent history, The Company, contends that the corporation is “the basis of the prosperity of the West and the best hope for the future of the rest of the world.”
There is no doubt that the corporation is now the key economic institution in Western nations. In the United States, for example, the corporation is the predominant form of business organization by every measure except sheer number of firms. According to recent census data, although corporations account for only about one fifth of all business organizations, they bring in almost 90% of all business receipts.
The corporation also has proven to be a powerful engine for focusing the efforts of individuals to maintain economic liberty. Because tyranny is far more likely to come from the public sector than the private, those who for selfish reasons strive to maintain both a democratic capitalist society and, of particular relevance to the present argument, a substantial sphere of economic liberty therein serve the public interest. Put another way, private property and freedom of contract were “indispensable if private business corporations were to come into existence.” In turn, by providing centers of power separate from government, corporations give “liberty economic substance over and against the state.” ...
The rise of the corporate form thus has “improved the living standards of millions of ordinary people, putting the luxuries of the rich within the reach of the man in the street.” The rising prosperity made possible by the tremendous new wealth created by industrial corporations was a major factor in destroying arbitrary class distinctions, enhancing personal and social mobility. Many of the wealthiest businessmen of the latter half of the 19th Century and the 20th Century began their careers as laborers rather than as scions of coupon-clipping plutocrats.
And so I put it to my students this way: You want to help make society a better place? You want to eliminate poverty? Become a corporate lawyer. Help businesses grow, so that they can create jobs and provide goods and services that make people’s lives better.
The goal isn’t just to make my students feel better about themselves. I firmly believe that too many of our students, when they get out in practice, may be more willing to act in ways that are ethically gray—to act as facilitators rather than gatekeepers—if they’ve been told repeatedly that they’ve already “sold out.” If more legal academics were to celebrate the pro-social aspects of corporate practice, perhaps our students would be better gatekeepers once they get out in practice.
It might help even more if a certain presidential candidate were to celebrate the pro-social aspects of her career as a corporate lawyer.