The Importance of Professionalism in the Legal Profession
The very word “profession’ denotes there is supposed to be professionalism around somewhere, but where is the somewhere? Unfortunately, due to much unprofessional behavior among lawyers over the years, it is a joke in some circles that there probably isn’t a lawyer left practicing professionalism. This of course isn’t true and hopefully this blog will give some positive insight.
It is interesting to note that the legal profession itself is concerned with the professionalism of its members and in April of 2015 a conference organized by the Harvard Law School Center on the Legal Profession was held to deal directly with the subject of Breathing New Life Into Professionalism in the Practice of Law. The conference, attended by over 100 leaders from a wide range of legal services was based on an essay written by four highly respected legal professionals, Bill Lee David Wilkins, Felicia Ellsworth and Ben Heineman. The essay, “Lawyers as Professionals and Citizens” extensively covers the topic of this blog, highlighting the virtuous topics of “technical expert, wise counselor, and effective leader.” In all these areas, a lawyer is admonished to be truthful, caring, and transparent in their dealings with co-workers, other legal professionals, clients and the community at large. While receiving appropriate payment for their services is important, professionalism in the legal profession demands a lawyer be fair in their charges and honestly put forth the time and expertise required to represent a client whether he/she is low or high end in their circumstances. Equal diligence is expected when carrying out the obligations of a corporation or law school assignment.
There are four essay points of ethical responsibilities required of a lawyer:
- “Responsibilities to the people and organizations that their own institutions serves (such as corporate stakeholders, law firm clients, and law students and faculty)”
- “Responsibilities to the legal system and rule of law that are the foundation of our political economy and constitutional democracy, including contributing to access to justice, strengthening the rule of law and legal institutions in the United States and around the world, and supporting efforts by other lawyers to uphold their own professional responsibilities.”
- “Responsibilities to the institutions in which lawyers work. Examples are corporations, law firms, law schools, and to the people employed by such institutions such as a corporation’s global workforce or a law firm’s or law school’s diverse employees.”
- “Responsibilities to secure other broad public goods and enhance sound private ordering, complementary to the rule of law, in order to create a safe, fair, and just society, in which individuals and institutions (including major corporations, major law firms, and major law schools) can thrive over the long-term.”
In looking at the entirety of the responsibilities of professionalism in the legal profession it seems an almost impossible task for a lawyer to uphold. No one is perfect and will sometimes stray from the straight and narrow. However, if a lawyer sets his or her sights on doing their best to uphold the professional ethics of their calling, their occasional slips of performance will be understood (this, of course, does not include major slips such as mishandling of monies or misrepresenting a client or firm). Before choosing a lawyer to represent you, be sure to check out several lawyers practicing in you area of need and this includes checking with the bar to make sure there have been no adjudicated infractions of their legal professionalism. And, if your experience with a lawyer shows a high level of professionalism, be sure to compliment the lawyer and take the time to write a testimonial for their website.