Today’s news that Paul Clement is leaving King & Spaulding over his defense of DOMA reminds me of one of the big stories among Harvard Law students when I was a student there back in the mid-1990s: The boycott of Sidley & Austin for its representation of the state of Colorado in Romer v. Evans. The lead appellate partner at Sidley was a former Solicitor General, Rex Lee, who had agreed to help defend the law for Colorado. In response, it became quite the cause celebre among Harvard Law students (and students elsewhere, I gather) not to interview at Sidley. There were picket lines objecting to the firm at the hotels hosting the interviews, too. The idea was to punish the firm by trying to starve the firm of its usual pool of new associates — and, looking ahead, to discourage firms from taking on such clients to make it harder for those on the other side to have strong legal representation.
Of course, both sides play this game. The most recent example on the right — or at least the example that comes to mind — has been the effort by some conservatives to punish lawyers and firms who have represented detainees at Guantanamo. This has gone through a few iterations, ranging from the remarks of a government official in 2007 suggesting that corporate clients of their firms might want to rethink being clients there to the efforts in 2010 to suggest that Gitmo lawyers were disloyal to the United States. If I had my druthers, we would have the same response to all of these disputes: It’s a lawyer’s job to represent unpopular clients, and we shouldn’t punish them for taking on that representation. Cue the John Adams tape. But I realize a lot of people don’t see it that way, at least when the politics of the matter are appropriately aligned.