St. Mary's Journal on Legal Malpractice & Ethics

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St. Mary's University School of Law


Robert W. Derner

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A fundamental tenet of the legal profession is that lawyers and judges are uniquely responsible—individually and collectively—for protecting the Rule of Law. This Article considers the failings of the legal profession in living up to that responsibility during Germany’s Third Reich. The incremental steps used by the Nazis to gain control of the German legal system—beginning as early as 1920 when the Nazi Party adopted a party platform that included a plan for a new legal system—turned the legal system on its head and destroyed the Rule of Law. By failing to uphold the integrity and independence of the profession, lawyers and judges permitted and ultimately collaborated in the subversion of the basic lawyer–client relationship, the abrogation of the lawyer’s role as advocate, and the elimination of judicial independence. As a result, while there was an elaborate facade of laws, the fundamental features of the Rule of Law no longer existed and in their place had grown an arbitrary and chaotic system leaving people without any protection from a violent, totalitarian government.