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Lawyers who won 2A case forced to resign from law firm that no longer supports gun rights

"We couldn’t abandon our clients simply because their positions are unpopular in some circles."

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Hannah Nightingale Washington DC
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Following Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling against New York’s concealed carry law, two lawyers with Kirkland & Ellis that won the case have now left the firm, after they were told to either drop their client, or leave the firm.

In a piece written for the Wall Street Journal titled "The Law Firm That Got Tired of Winning," Paul Clement and Erin Murphy wrote that usually after winning such a high profile case, "we generally receive a round of congratulatory messages from law-firm colleagues for a job well done, especially when we have helped our clients vindicate their fundamental constitutional rights."

"This time around, we received a very different message from our law firm," the two continued.

In securing a Supreme Court decision on the side of their client, the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, "we were presented with a stark choice—withdraw from representing them or withdraw from the firm."

They said that there was only one choice in this situation, "We couldn’t abandon our clients simply because their positions are unpopular in some circles."

Thursday’s ruling from the Supreme Court said that the state’s concealed carry law that required citizens to show "proper cause" to obtain a concealed carry license is in violation of the Constitution, with the justices ruling 6-3 in favor of the association.

The case centered around two men who applied for and were denied permits in the state for not providing a good enough reason for wanting permits.

The two lawyers wrote that to some, the idea of a client being dropped is "strange."

"Many businesses drop clients or change suppliers as convenience dictates. To others, the firm’s decision will seem like one more instance of acceding to the demands of the woke. But law firms aren’t supposed to operate like ordinary businesses. Lawyers owe a duty of loyalty to their clients," they wrote.

The two said that while lawyers can withdraw from representation for a good reason, "defending unpopular clients is what we do."

"Our adversarial system of justice depends on the representation of controversial clients, no matter which side has most of big law rooting for it," they wrote.

The two said that this isn’t the first time that they have left a firm to stand by a client, but what makes this situation different is that "the firm approved our representation of these clients years ago, and dropping them would cost the clients years of institutional memory."

The first time a law firm bailed on a client of Clement was in 2011. According to the Wall Street Journal, "King & Spalding dropped the U.S. House of Representatives after the House had retained Mr. Clement to defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act."

It was after this that Clements, who formerly served as Solicitor General, left and started his own practice.

"More remarkable still, in one of the cases we were asked to drop, we prevailed in the Supreme Court on Thursday. Those who object to the representation are thus taking issue with the Constitution as interpreted by a majority of the high court," they continued.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the New York Rifle & Pistol Association was a client of Clements, and when his appellate legal practice was acquired by Kirkland in 2016, his client was able to be retained.

The two lawyers continued, "The Constitution is the foundation of American liberty, but it isn’t self-executing. It depends on lawyers who are willing to take on controversial matters and on judges who are able to hear the best possible arguments from both sides."

They said that the high court’s jurisdiction is limited to "cases and controversies," which means that "the justices can’t uphold rights without an advocate to make the argument."

"The American legal profession’s willingness to take on and stand by controversial clients has made our system of justice the envy of the world. The profession shouldn’t back down from its willingness to tackle the most divisive issues. We certainly won’t," they wrote.

The lawyers said that their decision "has little to do with the issues in this case and everything to do with the underlying principle," and that they would do it for any of their clients.

"The scope of the Second Amendment and the plague of gun violence are more controversial than the Federal Arbitration Act or even religious speech. But that makes resisting the pressure to drop an unpopular client all the more crucial. The problems posed by the spate of recent violent gun crimes are real. But the solution isn’t to fire clients who have just vindicated a fundamental constitutional right," they wrote.

"We are sticking with our clients," they concluded.

The Wall Street Journal wrote that Kirkland's actions are "the opposite of ethical legal representation. Clients who are unpopular are the most in need of legal counsel. Lawyers drop clients who lie or don’t pay their bills."

Clements and Murphy are reportedly starting their own law firm.

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