In his letter resigning from King & Spalding, Paul Clement cited King & Spalding icon Griffin Bell for the elementary proposition that abandoning a client in the face of hostile criticism is professionally irresponsible. King & Spalding’s act of cowardice would also appear to violate specific rules of professional responsibility.
For example, Rule 1.16(b) of the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct limits the circumstances in which a lawyer may withdraw from representing a client. (Georgia’s rule is identical in relevant respects, and, given the ABA’s Model Rule 1.16, so, I would bet, are the rules in most or all of the jurisdictions that King & Spalding’s decision is subject to.) The one situation that King & Spalding might try to assert existed was that withdrawal could “be accomplished without material adverse effect on the interests of the client.” But it’s noteworthy that the same gay-rights activists who pressured King & Spalding to withdraw boast that the withdrawal will adversely affect the House of Representatives’ defense of DOMA. As TPM reports, Clement’s move from King & Spalding to the “boutique firm” of Bancroft PLLC
is in and of itself a victory for DOMA foes, according to Jon Davidson, legal director for the gay rights group Lambda Legal. “It’s a small firm,” he said. “It looks from their website that [Clement] will be the seventh partner with two associates? They’re going to have their hands full.”
Moreover, King & Spalding’s abandonment is widely said to “mark what seems like real marginalization” for the defenders of DOMA—including, of course, the client King & Spalding abandoned. And Speaker Boehner himself has complained of King & Spalding’s “careless disregard for its responsibilities to the House in this constitutional matter.”
It’s time for King & Spalding and its craven chairman Robert Hays to face some serious ethics discipline.