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Columbia Law Prof Knocks Hired-Gun Academics

Posted Nov 26, 2007 12:15 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Columbia Law School professor William Simon contends in an article that law professors are part of a “vast enterprise” that provides legal opinions shielding those who hire them.

The article (PDF), already published on the Social Science Research Network website, has been accepted for publication in the Stanford Law Review, the National Law Journal reports.

Simon targets what he calls “quasi-third-party advice” in which academics give supposedly disinterested legal opinions that seek to influence public officials or public attitudes for the benefit of private clients. Such advice is often kept secret until the client needs to reveal it, often under tightly controlled circumstances.

Simon says such secrecy is harmful because it removes accountability. “An academic who repeatedly gave bad advice in public would suffer serious loss of prestige in the academic world, especially if she was doing it in the pay of interested parties,” he notes.

The article gives examples and names names, highlighting opinions given to help protect Kaye Scholer in connection with its representation of a failed thrift and Vinson & Elkins in connection with its representation of Enron.

Profs who issue a lot of third-party advice should post their opinions on a website, Simon contends. He proposes this standard for transparency:

“When an academic publicly expresses a view as an expert or authorizes another to attribute an expert view to her, she should take care that the view be publicly accessible and clearly and accurately expressed, with its basis as fully stated as feasible. This duty includes an obligation to clarify and revise public description of her view as long as the view is the subject of public attention. The academic should not make any private commitments incompatible with this principle. Exceptions may be made, but only in compelling circumstances, and they should be publicly documented to the extent feasible.”

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