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The Firm

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Submitted By summits
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In the movie, The Firm, the main character, Mitch McDeer, is a young man of meager means who has persevered through Harvard Law School to graduate near the top of his class. Mitch entertains offers from major firms in New York and Chicago. When Memphis-based Bendini, Lambert, & Locke offer him a twenty percent higher salary and an enticing variety of perks and fringe benefits, he and his school teacher wife move to their dream home, furnished and equipped with a new Mercedes Benz convertible. The dream quickly fades when two colleagues of the firm are found dead in a supposed accident. Mitch becomes suspicious of the firm’s activities and is thrown into a tumultuous environment involving the FBI and organized crime and he is forced to risk everything for the future. Mitch McDeer, in the movie The Firm, is faced with an ethical dilemma and is forced to make a crucial decision which will effect his future and the lives of others. As a lawyer Mitch has taken an oath to “maintain the confidence and preserve inviolate the secrets of my client, and will accept no compensation in connection with my client’s business except with my client’s knowledge and approval” (Michigan Bar). This oath is the premise of not only the movie but of the life that Mitch has aspired to. Early on in the film Mitch is approached by the FBI to assist with their ongoing investigation of Bendini, Lambert and Locke. He is asked to do the following; steal files from the firm, testify against his colleagues, thereby sending them to jail, and provide privileged information that violates attorney client confidentiality. These actions would not only get Mitch disbarred, but also put he and his wife in danger for the rest of their lives. Mitch is faced with the ultimate decision, should he risk everything that he has worked so hard for and comply with the demands of the FBI, thereby breaking his oath as a lawyer, or does he choose not to help the FBI and continue with the firm under criminal pretenses and face jail time if the FBI indicts the firm.

Mitch encounters an ethical dilemma in which he needs to react to in response to the FBI. He is required to work with them within the justice system. Mitch will lose his privileged life, including his house and his job if he does, but the outcome is best for everyone concerned and this is utilitarianism. Disclosing hidden facts about the firm will allow the FBI to infiltrate the underground crime scene. Once Mitch discloses the requested information, “copies of contracts, articles of incorporation, clients’ bank records” ¹, as per the FBI instructions, crimes within the firm will be solved and lives will be saved. Furthermore, if Mitch helps the FBI it will maximize happiness for the greater number of people. If Mitch decides not to disclose the information then the ethical agenda would be to serve himself and not others. If Mitch’s ideology behind his actions were for himself and not for the greater good for the greater number of people then he would b Mitch feels threatened with his life. Abby his wife says “they can’t ask you to do that”. He replies “they are not asking” ² . The danger for Mitch in this situation is real and outweighs any benefits that are offered by the FBI. Therefore, the ethical structure depicted by the FBI is of moral value, but does not directly benefit a single person but a much larger group of people than just an individual such as Mitch. At times decisions must be made where the benefit of the good will benefit society rather than the individual and society must be the priority. “The law firm sets up legitimate businesses with dirty money from drugs, gambling and prostitution, all cash, all holed up off shore” ³.The distribution of drugs and the act of prostitution both have the capability to ruin one’s life; whether it is the addiction to drugs or humiliation of prostitution. According to Bentham, the right thing to do is whatever will maximize utility.
1, 2 & 3 The Firm. Dir. Sydney Pollack. Prod. Sydney Pollack and Scott Rudin. By David Rabe, Robert Towne, and David Rayfiel. Perf. Tom Cruise, Gene Hackman, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Ed Harris, Holly Hunter, and Hal Holbrook. Paramount Pictures, 1993.
By “Utility, he means whatever produces pleasure or happiness, and whatever prevents pain or suffering.” By Mitch helping the FBI and losing his life as he knew it, he is saving many others break out of pain and suffering and into happiness. Unfortunately, Kant noted, ‘virtue does not insure wellbeing and may even conflict with it’. “Further, there is moral perfection in this life and indeed few of us fully deserve the happiness we are lucky enough to enjoy” ⁴. This is supported when Mitch states that if he does do exactly what the FBI wants, he would be “living someone else’s life and one day I’m backing up out of the driveway and my car explodes” ⁵. Kant sees that ethics initially requires an analysis of our moral concepts. We must understand the concepts of a ‘good will’, ‘obligation’ and ‘duty.’ “The act is moral only if my motive for performing it is the desire to do my duty” ⁶. Mitch is torn between the desire for advancement in his career and the knowledge to do what is right, or essentially, his duty to his fellow man. The danger for Mitch in this situation is real and outweighs any benefits that are offered by the FBI. Therefore, the ethical structure depicted by the FBI is of moral value, but does not directly benefit a single person but a much larger group of people than just an individual such as Mitch. At times decisions must be made where the benefit of the good will benefit society rather than the individual and society must be the priority. Throughout the movie Mitch displays a sense of loyalty towards his wife, his brother, his career and even to an extent, the Firm. Through the eyes of Josiah Royce he states that, “to lead a morally significant life, one's actions must express a self-consciously asserted will. They must contribute toward realizing a plan of life, a plan that is itself unified by some freely chosen aim”⁷.
4 Johnson, Robert, "Kant's Moral Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2010/entries/kant-moral/

5 The Firm. Dir. Sydney Pollack. Prod. Sydney Pollack and Scott Rudin. By David Rabe, Robert Towne, and David Rayfiel. Perf. Tom Cruise, Gene Hackman, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Ed Harris, Holly Hunter, and Hal Holbrook. Paramount Pictures, 1993

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