Annual Meeting

Longtime leader in legal ethics and professional responsibility will receive ABA Medal

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Lawrence Fox

Lawrence Fox helped draft the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, first adopted in 1983. Photo courtesy of the ABA.

Through a legal career that spans more than five decades, Lawrence Fox has become nationally recognized for his leadership in professional responsibility and legal ethics and his commitment to pro bono work.

The ABA highlighted Fox’s service to both the legal profession and the association Tuesday, announcing he will receive this year’s ABA Medal. It is the ABA’s highest honor and, according to the association, “recognizes exceptionally distinguished service by a lawyer or lawyers to the cause of American jurisprudence.”

“I have been the beneficiary of lots of opportunities, and I have been fortunate in that many of them came to fruition,” says Fox, now a partner at Schoeman Updike Kaufman & Gerber in New York City and a senior research scholar at Yale Law School. “I could never have predicted any of it at all, but this award has caused me to go back and look at what’s in the cupboard. I’m very proud of it.”

Fox graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1968 and joined Drinker Biddle & Reath. He began working with partner Lewis H. Van Dusen Jr., who was then chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility. Van Dusen helped encourage his interest in the ethical obligations of the legal profession.

In one of his first projects with the ABA, Fox helped draft the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which were adopted by the House of Delegates in 1983 and now serve as the model for ethics rules of most jurisdictions. He later became chair of the Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility and a member of the Commission on the Evaluation of the Rules of Professional Conduct, which was tasked with reviewing the model rules in 1997.

In addition to serving as chair of the Section of Litigation and as a member of the House of Delegates, Fox helped lead and develop the Death Penalty Representation Project. Even now, he says he continues to provide legal services to individuals on death row.

“The connection for me is that the bulk of the cases, particularly the ones that are successful in challenging the death penalty, are usually ones where there was a significant ethical lapse in the representation,” Fox says. “In some ways, it all ties together.”

In commending Fox and his career, ABA President Patricia Lee Refo said he “distinguished himself as one of the giants of the legal profession.”

In a news release, Refo said, “In addition to his decades of service to the American Bar Association, Larry has been a leading voice on legal ethics and professional responsibility, has taught and mentored countless law students, and consistently done impactful pro bono work, particularly in the area of death penalty representation.”

Fox started teaching lawyers and law students about ethics and professional responsibility after Robert Mundheim, his former corporate law professor who then became dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, asked him to help write a continuing legal education and ethics curriculum.

He went on to teach law at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as Yale University, Cornell University and Harvard University, and has lectured on legal ethics at more than 35 law schools. He has participated in hundreds of CLE programs and written or co-written eight books on professional responsibility.

Fox served as managing partner of Drinker Biddle & Reath and left the firm after 45 years. He was also a special adviser to the American Law Institute’s Restatement of the Law Governing Lawyers and is a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and American Bar Foundation.

He will receive the ABA Medal at the virtual General Assembly on Aug. 4 during the ABA’s 2021 Hybrid Annual Meeting.

Its past recipients include U.S. Supreme Court Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Felix Frankfurter, Thurgood Marshall, William J. Brennan Jr. and Sandra Day O’Connor; World Justice Project founder and former ABA President William Neukom; social justice activist Bryan Stevenson; Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski; and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“If you get involved in organizations like the ABA, and actually give them some effort, some time and work with other people, you can accomplish an enormous amount,” Fox says. “I believe in the ABA, and I believe that the ABA ought to be supported.

“A lot of the things I have done have been directed at making the ABA more effective and to help provide guidance to our fellow lawyers so that we provide the services that clients need and protect what’s special about being a lawyer. That’s the key to a lot of what I’ve done.”

See also:

The Modern Law Library: “Knowing when to tell your client no and other ethical dilemmas”

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