While the news media chase Edward Snowden around the globe, we will focus on the really interesting question that others will ignore. Would U.S. legal ethics rules prevent a U.S. lawyer from advising Snowden on where he could go to minimize the chance of extradition and how to get there with least risk of capture?
Snowden is, of course, now a fugitive so one would have to ask whether obstruction of justice statutes (18 U.S.C. 1503 et seq.) would prevent anyone -- or at least any U.S. person or any person physically within the U.S. -- from assisting his effort to avoid capture. (Could the U.S. obstruction statutes extend to non-U.S. persons assisting a U.S. fugitive from outside the country?)
That raises the question: Would the reach of these laws extend to giving legal advice on, say, extradition agreements that various nations have with the U.S. and whether Snowden's conduct is encompassed by them? Or would a U.S. lawyer violate the obstructions laws (or any other laws ) simply by giving legal advice other than the advice to surrender? Put another way, can legal advice be obstruction of justice? Even if not, would it be unethical?
This may not be a purely theoretical question -- theoretical perhaps but not purely so -- because the New York Times reports on its website that Snowden is accompanied by a WikiLeaks consultant Sarah Harrison:
"Ms. Harrison is a British citizen who is working with the WikiLeaks legal defense team, the WikiLeaks statement said. She has also worked at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Center for Investigative Journalism in Britain, the statement said."
Unsaid is whether she is a lawyer. Presumably not. And I don't know what the UK ethics rules or laws would say. But what about our rules? Hypothetically speaking.