Attorney Professionalism Defined


While different people may have different views as to what constitutes attorney professionalism, one approach could be that a professional lawyer is characterized by civility to adversaries, officials, colleagues, clients and others, and by integrity, decency and client service - always with an eye towards advancing the ethical code of the profession.  

Everything that is positive is not necessarily required.  But that should not stop attorneys from consistently aspiring to ever-higher standards of conduct.  It is worthy of note that, even though attorneys sometimes explore the outer edges of what the ethical rules require, attorneys, unlike many others, at least have ethical rules by which they are required to live.  It is so much the better when attorneys aspire to go beyond what may be absolutely required.  Sometimes complying with the letter of a law or standard is not enough; sometimes, it is right and appropriate to be sure that one is complying in spirit.

Client service arguably lays the overall foundation for professionalism.  But there is more.  That service must be performed with the recognition that the attorney and client comprise just one aspect of the legal system.  As one focuses on adversaries, fellow practitioners, court and other governmental officials, it becomes evident that the faces of the legal system are many.  Yet we are all people, and our commitment to promoting respect for and development of the law and legal process, and to having continuing respect for each other, should always be a hallmark of attorney behavior.  

Attorneys should also look beyond short-term results and consider the consequences of their actions and advice.  And, as a critical aspect of the attorney’s world-view, due attention should be given to pro bono services for the needy.

How, then, may we exhibit attorney professionalism? -

◦ By exemplary ethical conduct: aspiring to fulfill the spirit, and not just the requirements, of the Code of Professional Responsibility;
◦ By remaining competent: taking advantage of continuing legal education; keeping abreast of the latest developments in our areas of expertise; mentoring younger attorneys; 
◦ By showing good judgment: providing client service at the highest levels by formulating views and advice based upon knowledge and experience; 
◦ By acting with integrity: exhibiting soundness of character, fidelity and honesty; and
◦ By demonstrating civility: always endeavoring to behave with appropriate courtesy and respect.

It would be naïve to think that, as a result of aspiring to professionalism, an attorney cannot legitimately also be focused on making a good living for oneself and one’s family.  There is nothing wrong with being rewarded for effort.  But the perception that many lawyers are too focused on monetary reward is sometimes a stumbling block that can stand in the way of the public's favorable perception of attorneys in general.  Conduct that is consistently professional in nature can help.  Let it be that the worst thing that is ever said about a lawyer that the lawyer is overly attuned to such things as ethics and civility.