It is a profession, people!
The legal profession consists of some of the best and brightest men and women of our society. Each year, approximately 90,000 people nationwide apply to law school. About 45,000 of those applicants enter law school. Even fewer graduate and pass the bar examination. There is no doubt that attorneys belong to an elite group of individuals. However, there is a requirement for being a lawyer that is not evaluated on the LSAT, not taught in law school, and not tested on the bar exam. Despite their obvious intelligence, many lawyers fail because they lack the ethical and moral compass, and the sense of honor and self-discipline, required by someone engaged in the practice of law. Members of the public used to view attorneys with honor. Now, through some lawyers’ own conduct, some vulgar advertising, as well as portrayals of attorneys in popular culture, a significant portion of the public holds attorneys in contempt.
I have been putting a lot of thought into the type of attorney that I want to be. By this, I do not mean the area of law that I am going to practice (i.e., family law attorney, personal injury attorney, real estate attorney, etc.). I mean actually how I intend to operate with my peers, judges, clients, and my staff. Unfortunately, attorneys go to school for three years, primarily learning how to argue different sides of every issue. Law school frames almost everything in the context of creating a winning or losing argument. This ability does not necessarily translate into the ability to have compassion for differing points of view and people.
It is a fine line, balancing the need for zealous advocacy with the need to operate with integrity, the need to be firm without being hard-nosed and inflexible, the need to be professional with the need to be friendly and accessible. I have been fortunate enough to meet many attorneys whose behavior I can model. Unfortunately, these attorneys are not the newsmakers who will influence public opinion about the legal profession. The real newsmakers appear to be the members of the bar who diminish its valor.
Recently, there were two articles in particular which caught my eye. First, the ABA Journal posted an article about a child molester who wants to be re-admitted to the practice of law. In the process of his renewal plea, he admitted to more victims. He pleads, "I wish to return to the only profession I have known, I ask you to conclude I am fit to do so." I ask, since when is a criminal fit to be a member of a profession that depends on integrity, honesty and the rule of law?
The second article involved Drew Peterson’s attorney. A radio station ditched a proposed, “Win a Date with Drew” contest. Incredibly, the lawyer was angry over its cancellation. Now, I am not a criminal law attorney, nor will I ever be a criminal law attorney, so I cannot speak from experience. However, it seems to me that if my client is a suspect in the disappearance of his fourth wife, the last thing I would want him out doing is dating other women, especially so publicly. In this case, though, the issue that bothers me the most is this attorney’s lack of professional demeanor. Why would he even consider commenting publicly on the issue? Is this attorney now his client’s matchmaker?
I know that attorneys may have infamous clients. However, when an attorney is infamous for something other than his excellent lawyering skills and integrity, he should either reform or re-think his choice of profession.