Last month, I had the honor of being asked to participate in a presentation to the National Bar Association. The general topic – Ethics and Professionalism. The thrust of the presentation was provided by the Sr. Staff attorney of the Washington, D.C. Attorney Grievance Commission, Dolores Dorsainvil, Esq. As fate would have it, last week she also presented to my specialty bar association as well. Of course, there are a variety of legal ethics rules, however, during this Easter season, one area of focus stood out the most. Professionalism, or as she referred to it, “How to Play Nice”. A term we’ve all heard from as far back as our days spent on the playground. Well, years later, while we’ve all grown in age, and despite the fact that we all engaged in a mandatory professionalism course before we were admitted to the bar, the issues remain the same. Bullying tactics, “Rambo” style litigation, manipulation, an unwillingness to negotiate and, at times, an utter disregard and disrespect for our colleagues.
Maryland’s ideal of professionalism is “the combination of the core values of personal integrity, competency, civility, independence, and public service that distinguish lawyers as the caretakers of the rule of law”. In fact, we are told that once we are admitted to the bar, that we are held to the standard of a lawyer 24 hours a day/7 days a week. Overall, I am proud to say that most attorneys, that I know, work hard to adhere to that rule and display regular acts of honor to our profession. However, for a small percentage of attorneys, this is not the case. And the sad part, is that this small percentage is delivering a disproportionate message to the general public. We’ve all heard the jokes and snide remarks about the legal profession. Even I have been the victim of a colleagues’ poor professional behavior. In fact, as recently as last month.
Over the years, I’ve identified a general rule of thumb as to why such unprofessionalism is sometimes displayed. Actually, two. The first is that the offending attorney is generally self-centered, cocky and rude. Thankfully, this is the smallest of the representational pool. The other set includes attorneys who, rather than engage in our code of ethics surrounding, competence, diligence, candor and courtesy, resort to bullying, manipulations, accusations and flat out lying, when they are ill-prepared for the legal matter at hand; simply have no case at all or are misguided by the wishes of their client. This is when I find that submission to the lower tactics of unprofessionalism rears its ugly head.
But lawyers are not alone in perpetuating this negative perception of the legal field. I find that because the reputation of lawyers are so close in line with the general lower opinion of car salesmen, that I am frequently asked, by would be clients, if I’ll be a bulldog or pit bull while handling their case. My upfront answer is always the same: There is no need to display such behavior when you have knowledge, skill and experience on your side. As such, I conduct myself much like a silent assassin if you will. No need to brag about my abilities; no need to insult the intelligence of opposing counsel because they don’t see things my way and no need to belittle younger attorneys by throwing around how many more years of practice I have or threatening them with whom I might know. As my grandmother used to calmly say, “Don’t worry baby, It’ll all come out in the wash”. For me, that’s the courtroom. She also used to tell me to enter the courtroom with my “legal gun cocked and loaded”. Meaning do your homework and be prepared.
So, for those of you who need the message of this article, and you know who you are, as you celebrate this Easter Season and all that it stands for, remember to engage in those acts of honor, not only in your homes and your personal lives, but amongst your colleagues and in your every day professional lives as well. Be driven by the general profession itself, why you became a lawyer in the first place: the satisfaction gained from researching and finding just the right case or statute which addresses your clients particular issue; the thrill of the legal argument and the satisfaction of a good win and satisfied client. In other words, let’s resurrect civil litigation, this year and for years to come.
As for me, I’m by no means perfect, but for those of you who are or have been my clients and for those who may become clients in the future, you can be sure that I am committed to my profession’s code of ethics and regularly strive to make sure that everyone receives and will always receive my time, energy, commitment, research, thorough case analysis, honest and forthright opinions (whether you like them or not) and zealous argument, but not a hint of unprofessionalism. Why? Because you deserve Good Counsel.
Thanks for reading. Please note that I am licensed to practice law in Maryland and the District of Columbia. Please feel free to learn more about my practice at www.kelseylaw.net and to seek legal advice when you feel it necessary.
In addition, please be sure and “like” and “share” this and any other article to promote the sharing of these important topics. Of course, I welcome you as a regular follower to my blog and you may choose to do so by clicking “follow” at the top of this page. You may also follow my practice by liking “The Kelsey Law Firm” Facebook page and following me on twitter at “@Kelsey Law Firm”, feeling free to retweet at any time. For the lighter side of the firm’s activities, follow me on instagram at “TheKelseyLawFirm”. Hope to see you in one or all of those places.