The Concept of Human Dignity in the Realm of the Law

treat with human dignityOne of the tenants on which we have have built our law firm is that of dignity. The concept of believing we should treat every client, every person we interact with, with dignity. On a basic level, dignity means “the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect.” However, there is the concept of “human dignity,” a philosophical one often rooted in religion, but also the basis of fundamental human rights. It is a belief built into in our Country’s foundation of inherent, inalienable rights.

Lawyers and Human Dignity

I recently came across a piece titled “Lawyers as Upholders of Human Dignity (When They Aren’t Busy Assaulting It)” written by law professor, David Luban. He looked at the hypothesis “that upholding human dignity is what makes the practice of law worthwhile.” I completely agree with this statement because it’s what I believe makes being an attorney worthwhile. The essay as a whole covers a multitude of legal ethical issues, but Luban offers some interesting arguments that I would briefly like to point out.

Luban states that one principle of human dignity is a person’s right to counsel and the right to be heard. More importantly, he states that human dignity means “having a story of one’s own.” He then argues that part of human dignity is having the autonomy to make your own choices, and part of this is how your story is told. At some level the role of the attorney can interact with that autonomy according to Luban, especially in situations where a person, or client, may not want to choose the path that is legally “best” for him or her. However, at my law firm we are here to help clients tell their story, and part of that story is helping them through the healing process after an injury.

Human Dignity In Relation to Attorney-Client Privileges

Luban also discusses human dignity as it relates to attorney-client privileges. As you may know lawyers have a duty of confidentiality to their clients. Without this an attorney could be compelled to testify as to whatever a client has told him or her. Luban nicely argues that “compelled self-punishment violates human dignity because it humiliates the victim.” The attorney-client privilege could arguably prevent a client from being humiliated. There’s more to the privilege than just that, but it is an interesting notion that without it we would be violating human dignity. Luban further states that if you eliminate the attorney-client privilege the defendant now has three choices: (1) vicarious self-incrimination, (2) lying to her lawyer, or (3) telling her lawyer little or nothing. Each violates the client’s human dignity.

Luban further discusses the concept of human dignity as non-humiliation. He argues that “at the very least honoring human dignity requires not humiliating people.” If we go back to the definition of dignity, that a person is worthy of respect, then they are not to be degraded. As attorneys, it is our job to prevent any humiliation to our clients.

More on Human Dignity

In another article “The Human Dignity of Clients”, the author, Katherine R. Kruse, looks at David Luban’s collection of essays, The Good Lawyer, as well as Legal Ethics and Human Dignity. She argues that Luban “tends to want to correct the problems of injustice by going outside the framework of law and allowing lawyers’ moral sentiments to guide them…However, the human dignity framework Luban presents—in which lawyers seek to hear their clients’ voices and reconcile or incorporate their clients’ perspectives into the law—is a more promising antidote to the problem he identifies.”

I think both authors understand the importance of the lawyer’s role in making sure his or her client is heard and understanding the client’s goals. It is a balance, but in being able to do this, a lawyer ensures that his or her client’s dignity remains, which should always be at the forefront for an attorney.

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