Vol. LVII No. 5

The Lawyer as Public Figure for First Amendment Purposes

Abstract: Should lawyers be treated as public figures for purposes of defamation claims and, therefore, be subjected to a higher evidentiary standard of actual malice under the Supreme Court’s decision in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan? The question of whether lawyers should be treated as public figures raises broad questions about the nature of defamation law and the legal profession.  By examining the Supreme Court’s defamation jurisprudence through the lens of cases involving lawyers as plaintiffs, one can see the deficiencies and inconsistencies in the Court’s opinions more clearly. And by examining the Court’s defamation cases through this lens, one can also see more clearly some of the complexities the legal profession now faces and its sometimes conflicting view of itself.

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