Professor William Simon Interviewed by CBS' "60 Minutes" About Legal Ethics
New York, February 10, 2016—Columbia Law School Professor William Simon, a leading expert on ethics and professional responsibility, was a central source for a Jan. 31 “60 Minutes” exposé that revealed how easily suspect money can flow into the U.S. via anonymously-owned shell companies.
The segment was based on a report, Lowering the Bar, prepared by the nonprofit group Global Witness. The activist organization conducted a hidden-camera sting operation using an investigator who posed as a representative of a supposed African minister of mines with millions of dollars accumulated from companies seeking business in his country. Of the 13 American lawyers the investigator met, only one refused to offer advice on how to get suspect money into the U.S.
After studying the transcripts of the meetings, Simon, the Arthur Levitt Professor of Law, concluded that the conduct exhibited by the subjects “does not comply with the professional responsibilities of lawyers asked for assistance with potentially unlawful transactions.” In a three-page statement on the investigation published as part of the Global Witness report, Simon and Rutgers Law Professor John Leubsdorf recommend that legal ethics rules should be revised to explicitly bar lawyers from assisting prospective clients in illegal or fraudulent conduct.
Writing an opinion piece for the National Law Journal today, Simon and Leubsdorf offer take-away lessons learned from the investigation. This piece follows legislation reintroduced last week in the House of Representatives that would require the disclosure of a corporation’s beneficial owner.