With the recent news that President Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney was raided by the FBI and is now the subject of a criminal investigation, my oft-stated assertion on the show is becoming evident. Michael Cohen can officially be named the Worst Lawyer in America. Given the scope of Cohen’s misdeeds, he has surpassed the former reigning champion, Sam Nunberg, who famously tried to ignore a subpoena from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, only to quickly reverse course when he realized that, duh, he could be arrested for doing so. However, Michael Cohen deserves the “WorstLawyer” distinction far more than Nunberg because Cohen’s downfall was caused by even more flagrant instances of behaving in the exact opposite of the way lawyers are supposed to behave.
Allow me to explain:
1) Cohen Violated Basic Legal Ethics. Every first-year law student is required to take a Legal Ethics class and all aspiring attorneys must pass a legal ethics exam (the MPRE) before they can be admitted to the bar in any state. Literally the first rule of legal ethics is that a lawyer cannot
make decisions for their client without the client’s knowledge and consent. When news broke
that Michael Cohen paid hush money to Stormy Daniels, Cohen immediately claimed that he did
so with his own money and without Donald Trump’s knowledge. This claim is ridiculous to begin
with, and became even more so when the “hush agreement” was made public. The Non-
Disclosure Agreement signed by Stormy Daniels specifically obligates both Stormy and her illicit
lover, “David Dennison” (who is Cohen’s client) to keep silent about their sexual relationship.
This is problematic because, as any 1L can tell you, a contract that is entered into without one
party’s knowledge or consent is not valid. Stormy Daniels is already challenging the agreement
based on the fact that David Dennison never signed the agreement. If you add in the fact that
Dennison never knew about the agreement in the first place, it could be thrown out on the spot.
Of course, this issue could be resolved if “David Dennison” was someone other than Donald
Trump, but Michael Cohen didn’t even think to make that argument.
2) Cohen Admits to Committing Crimes. In addition to complying with legal ethics, another basic
standard that most lawyers hold themselves to is: don’t commit crimes. In fact, the whole point
of being a lawyer is to advise other people on how NOT to commit crimes or break laws. Cohen
freely shared that he used the proceeds of a home equity loan to pay Stormy Daniels. In order to
receive a bank loan, a borrower must state the purpose for the funds in the loan application. To
use the proceeds of a bank loan for something other than its stated purpose is a crime. Unless
Cohen wrote “Bribery Payment to Porn Star” in his loan application, he has admitted to
committing all the elements of bank fraud. Aside from criminal penalties, committing a crime
like this can also get an attorney disbarred. So, what kind of lawyer endangers their career and
freedom to commit easily proven crimes on behalf of their client? A very, very bad one.
3) He Calls Himself a “Fixer”: In The Godfather, Tom Hagen, the family consiglieri, always
introduces himself as a lawyer with a very specialized practice. He leaves it unsaid that he is the
Corleone family’s fixer and enforcer. Unlike the fictional Mr. Hagen, however, Michael Cohen routinely describes himself as the Trump family fixer. This is idiotic for two reasons. First, by
openly claiming that the services he provides to Donald Trump extend beyond typical legal
advice, Cohen jeopardizes his ability to claim that communications are protected by attorney-
client privilege. The privilege only applies to communications with an attorney that contain legal
advice; if the communications are not about legal matters, then the privilege does not apply.
Second, Cohen is attracting much more scrutiny to his activities by proclaiming himself as a full
service “fixer.” Imagine if Tom Hagen started conversations by telling you that you’d wake up
next to a horse head; he’d be a lot less effective. Most successful attorneys use subtlety and
discretion to achieve results for their clients, but Cohen (much like Donald Trump) possesses
none of those qualities. The result is that Cohen’s name is splashed all over the news and his list
of other clients is subjected to scrutiny. So now Cohen’s indiscretion has also led to unwanted
attention and embarrassment for his other clients, who have nothing to do with the Special
Counsel investigation. Not the type of lawyering that inspires confidence.
4) There Might be Tapes! There are reports that the FBI seized taped recordings of Cohen’s
conversations with other individuals doing business with the Trump enterprises, in order to use
them as “leverage” (i.e. blackmail) at a later date. I cannot even begin to explain how
problematic this is. The fact that the President and many of his close associates are panicking
about these tapes falling into the hands of Robert Mueller says everything about how
incriminating they likely are.
So there you have it- a recap of Michael Cohen’s many offenses against the legal profession. Whether his actions are due to incompetence or willful disregard for the law, I’ll leave it for you to decide. Eitherway, the title of America’s Worst Lawyer seems appropriate.