Lawyer professionalism: It’s no laughing matter

first_img Lawyer professionalism: It’s no laughing matter August 1, 2003 Regular News Lawyer professionalism: It’s no laughing matter In addition to the jokes depicting lawyers as greedy, dishonest moneygrubbers, there are, among others, jokes currently circulating including lawyers seeking justice, lawyers as predators, and lawyers as laboratory rats. 3 W hile one might chuckle reading any one of the countless jokes, the truth is that it does not require a quantum leap to discern that there is a relationship between the jokes’ implications and the publics’ image of our profession. For instance, jokes about justice infer that lawyers are willing to put forth “Herculean efforts” to obtain justice for the rich and the powerful. Yet, 60 percent of Americans believe lawyers are less likely to work as hard for poor clients. 4 The lawyer-shark analogy suggests lawyers combine skill and deception to achieve a desired result and are not opposed to devouring the opposition in pursuit thereof. 5 F inally, the laboratory rat jokes epitomize the public’s view that there is an overabundance of lawyers; lawyers lack morals; lawyers are not human; and, thus, extermination is a viable remedy. 6Lawyers have been abhorred since biblical days when they were rebuked for creating “red tape,” which interfered with religious freedom. 7 T oday lawyers derive their unpopularity, in part, from advocating objectionable causes and representing unsavory clients. Nonetheless, the causes and clients alone do not address the depiction of lawyers portrayed in the jokes. Florida Bar disciplinary statistics may help one realize that the public perception is not without merit. Last year 8,691 disciplinary files were opened. 8 That number equates to approximately one grievance filed for every group of eight Bar members. While all of the claims filed may not proceed to final order, during 2001-2002 the Supreme Court entered 414 final orders. 9 N early half of those orders resulted in disbarments, suspensions, or disciplinary resignation. 10It will not be an easy task to dispel the image thrust upon lawyers, but something worth achieving is worth the effort expended. We must associate integrity, honesty, and professionalism with the practice of law. This goal can be achieved through early intervention and continued mentoring, The Embryonic Esquire and Early InterventionOn the first day of estates and trusts, the professor referred to his classroom of consternated yet attentive students as “embryonic esquires.” At the time, the term had little relevance other than to break the ice. Metaphorically, however, a clear connotation between a law student and an embryo can be drawn. As a law student, one is in a closed world much like an embryo. The classroom only provides the law student with a surreal vision of how law is practiced outside collegiate walls. In order to bring professionalism into the law student’s world, we must provide law students with experiences that they will encounter as a practicing attorney. Law schools can institute means to effect this end by introducing professionalism at orientation, enhancing the introduction of professionalism in the classroom, and implementing a modified version of the American Inns of Court. Professionalism at OrientationGenerally speaking, prior to beginning their first year, law students are welcomed to their prospective law school and to the profession through orientation. Orientation aims to reduce the new students’ anxiety by providing them with an overview of what is required to become a successful student and lawyer. It seems only fitting that the requirements to being successful include an introduction to professionalism. Associate Dean Joyce McConnell from a West Virginia law school recognized the need to remind students at the beginning of law school that the practice of law was not just a job but rather “a profession with a higher calling, one with significant responsibilities.” 11During the orientation process, students explore what it means to be a lawyer. After hearing from the dean, judges, and lawyers, the students break into groups of 15 to 20 to discuss lawyer responsibilities, including ethics and public service. 12 This early introduction provides role modeling for students to emulate in their law school and professional careers. Professionalism in the ClassroomOrientation is only the first step. There are numerous articles that have been written, which echo a reoccurring concern law schools are failing to thoroughly integrate professionalism into their respective curriculum. While it is true that most schools require an ethics course, the purpose of the course is to equip the student with the basic elements necessary to pass the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Exam. 13 As such, the courses offered are generally designed to assist the students in interpreting the model rules; however, the rules are merely a minimum standard of conduct required of practicing attorneys to avoid discipline. Professionalism encompasses behavior both within and outside the realm of the model rules. Thus, to ingrain professionalism in the hearts and minds of students, the law schools must teach both legal ethics and professionalism persuasively. 14 This can be accomplished by incorporating ethical and professional issues facing practicing attorneys into the curriculum of each substantive area of law taught. 15 Law School Inns of CourtWith the fundamentals of professionalism laid during orientation and expanded in the classroom, students should be ready to address professionalism issues encountered in the practice of law. In 1980 Chief Justice Warren Burger adopted the American Inns of Court concept modeled after the British Inns of Court system, which utilized seasoned lawyers in a process of legal apprenticeship and mentoring to educate and train attorneys. 16 The American Inns of Court’s central theme is professionalism. 17Currently, third-year students are eligible to apply for admission to a local chapter, but student admission is limited. The president of the Detroit Chapter Inns of Court stated that participation provides young lawyers and students an opportunity to learn how the system works, which they do not get in the classroom. 18 The Inns of Court reflect a tremendous improvement in students from the start of the program to the end; helps students develop interpersonal relationships, not emphasized in law school; and provides a form of direct interaction between pupils, barristers, associates, and masters. 19That being said, it is clear that all law students would benefit from the institution of a Law School Chapter Inns of Court modeled after the American Inns of Court. Masters could be filled by judges, lawyers, and law professors (perhaps in exchange for CLE or pro bono credits); and barristers, associates, and pupils could be filled by third-year, second-year, and first-year law students, respectively.The program could be modeled to apply the same traditional Inns of Court proceedings or could be geared to draw from specific courses offered by the university. The subject of the ethical or professional issue need not be limited to litigation dilemmas but could be expanded to include a variety of issues facing attorneys in numerous areas of practice. Participation of the student body could be through competitive moot-court type programs, voluntary membership, or mandatory participation linked to a specific course. The Practicing Attorney and MentoringThe embryonic esquire magically transforms into a practicing attorney after successfully completing law school and passing the bar. Nonetheless, learning the law and spewing that information onto the pages of the bar examination does not imbue the new attorney with the ability to practice law without further training. Law school has merely laid a foundation to be expanded upon in the years to come.Professionalism within the practice of law includes themes such as: exceeding minimum standards set forth in the code of conduct; displaying civility, good manners, fairness, and honesty; promoting the system of justice and epitomizing that promotion through behavior; and being efficient, prepared, and prompt when dealing with the court, a client, and opposing counsel. 20 Aspirations to permeate professionalism into new attorneys require mentoring. Mentoring can take many forms. In multi-attorney firms new attorneys will benefit from the knowledge and wisdom of more seasoned attorneys. Mentoring not only provides firms with economic incentives by developing partners and avoiding attrition but also produces well-rounded, well-developed attorneys to better serve the profession and individual clients. 21New lawyers whose firm does not offer mentoring programs and sole practitioners have mentoring resources available. Membership to local chapters of the American Inns of Court provides an excellent opportunity for mentoring and learning. Additionally, The Florida Bar offers mentoring through Seek Counsel of Professional Experience (SCOPE). 22 This program consists of a rotating panel of volunteer attorneys with five years experience in more than 60 substantive and procedural areas, including professionalism. 23 The panel attorney will engage in a brief consultation to assist SCOPE users to determine their professional capability to undertake the matter at issue and to decide the best approach to resolve the legal problems involved. 24 S imilarly, the American Bar Association’s Center for Professional Responsibility provides an ethics research service. 25 One can call, write, fax, or e-mail a description of events posing an ethical issue and an ETHICsearch lawyer will assist the attorney in resolving the question by providing applicable ABA ethics rules, ethics opinions issued by the ABA, and local bar opinions, or other relevant materials. 26 F inally, both The Florida Bar and the American Bar Association provide formal ethics opinions online. Awareness and utilization of these resources and the institution of new resources will enable new attorneys to be responsible in decision- making and to practice law professionally. ConclusionProfessionalism is no laughing matter. While lawyer jokes could keep a comedian in business, they portray a public image which is disgraceful to the legal profession. Thus, it is our responsibility to impress upon students and new attorneys the importance of professionalism. Professionalism can be etched into the hearts and minds of new attorneys through early intervention and continued mentoring. incorporating professionalism into the practice of law, attorneys are operating above the minimum standard required by model codes of conduct and are, therefore, not only avoiding discipline but also improving the public image and seeking justice with integrity and honor. 1 Attorney Jokes from Snifter, Flute, & Stein Ethics. 2 Id. 3 Marc Galanter, Changing Legal Consciousness in America: The View from the Joke Corpus , 23 Cardozo L. Rev. 2223, Lecture ( 2002). 4 Id. (Citing Barbara Curran, The Legal Needs of the Public 234, Am. Bar Found (1977). 5 Id. 6 Id. 7 Luke 11:45, New King James Version. 8, The Florida Bar Disciplinary Statistics (Aug. 2002). 9 Id . 10 Id. (20 disbarments, 133 suspensions, 69 public reprimands, 29 disciplinary resignations, 52 admonishments, 109 probations). 11 Joyce McConnell, Greetings from the Academic Dean , W.Va. Law 10, (1999). 12 Id. 13 Steven R. Plotkin, Anita C. DiGioia, Where Do You Stand? Professionalism: Challenges for the 21 Century , 47 La.B.J. 316 (1999). 14 Id. 15 Id. 16 Nora C. Poter, Enriched by Colleagues, How Lawyers are Learning from Each Other and Enjoying Social Camaraderie through Membership in the American Inns of Court, Pa. Law. 20 (2002). 17 Elliot L. Bien, Toward a Community of Professionalism , 3 J.App.Prac. & Process 475 (2001). 18 Stecker, Naseem, A Matter of Civility: American Inns of Court Strive to Shape a Culture of Excellence in Jurisprudence, (2001). 19 Id. 20 A Roundtable on Professionalism, 40-Oct Hus. Law.16— 2002, by Houston Bar Association. 21 Elizabeth Toth Stepping up to the Plate as a Mentor, 49 Aug Fed. Law 4, 2002. 22 SCOPE Form (last visited Jan. 13. 2003). 23 Id. 24 Id. 25 26 (There is no charge for the initial consultation or if the ETHlCsearch lawyer can answer a question immediately. Thereafter, ABA members are charged $45/hr and nonmembers $65/hr). Kimberly L. Rothenburg The Florida Bar Standing Committee on Professionalism recently presented Kimberly Rothenburg the Lion of Justice Trophy for winning its annual Law Student Professionalism Essay contest. Rothenburg is starting her third year of law school at the University of Florida this fall and is from West Palm Beach. She is currently focusing her studies on tax law issues. Each year, essays on the topic of legal professionalism are collected by each Florida law school and the best essay from each law school is submitted to the Bar’s Center for Professionalism. The winner is chosen from those essays by The Florida Bar Standing Committee on Professionalism. The Center for Professionalism administrates the award for the committee and also distributes a newsletter, The Professional. The summer issue is now available. A lawyer charged a man $500 for legal services. The man paid him with crisp new $100 bills. After the client left, the lawyer discovered that two bills had stuck together — he’d been overpaid by $100. The ethical dilemma for the lawyer: Should he tell his partner? 1 Two lawyers were negotiating a case. “Look,” said one to the other, “let’s be honest with each other.” “Okay, you first,” replied the other. — End of discussion. 2 last_img

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