Parting Thoughts

Aiming at Nothin,
and Seldom Missing

By Alan G. Greer

One of the primary reasons people have such a low respect for and opinion of attorneys is that they don't know what we stand for as a profession or as individuals. So, why don't they know you may ask? Because we don't know. Too many of us aim at nothing and seldom miss. As a result, we are unhappy in our professional as well as our personal lives. We entered the profession of law to do good, but too many of us have ended up only doing money.

I read an article about a lawyer who said he was paid to be rude. That's all he stands for and the public knows it. Our purpose as lawyers should not just be to get paid with the understanding we will do anything to achieve that end. Instead, it should be to practice ethical law for which we earn a just compensation. We cannot let ourselves be pushed into becoming deformed human beings who are not only despised by the public, but despised by ourselves as well.

The public's negative view of lawyers is their perception that the only thing we are interested in is their money. We foster that view by demanding higher and higher fees from our clients and more and more billable hours out of our lawyers.

In response, too many of us plead that our firms force us to focus primarily on hours and money. If being rude or cutting ethical corners increases the money we bring in, so be it. Besides, we aren't as bad as other attorneys we know.

So, where do we draw the line? Just because something is 'legal' and someone will pay us to do it doesn't mean we can abandon our judgments of true right and wrong. We need to pose the question, 'Would my mother be ashamed if she read in the morning paper that I had acted that way?'

When our peers or our firms pressure us to act otherwise, we have to find the courage to resist. That may create stress in our practices. But the practice of law involves unresolved tensions between clients, adversaries, courts and within our firms. However, as our firms seek to cut off our rough, uneven edges, it is just as necessary for us, as individual lawyers, to push back against that tension and maintain our individuality and self-respect. The trick is when and how to push. If you blindly accept everything your firm dishes out, you will become just another unhappy cookie cutter lawyer. Likewise, if you fight everything, you are branded as a hopeless malcontent with no future. But, if you pick your battles based on true merit, you will become a recognized and valued individual by your clients and within your firm - not to mention much happier to boot.

If you want to be a truly good lawyer, the tensions never go away, nor are they completely resolved. At best, new ones only replace old ones. In the words of a lawyer I really respect, 'You just get to dive off higher and higher platforms into smaller and smaller tanks.' So, pick your own priorities; don't let them be imposed on you. But be prepared to pay the price for your choices and know there will be one.

Among these should be respect for others and ethics in our day-to-day practices, priorities not to be skirted in order to see how close to the edge we can get without falling over. These are the 'pole stars' by which we guide our practices as lawyers - and human beings.

Don't let your dreams turn into nightmares. Whether dreams or nightmares, in the end they will have defined you. So, don't forfeit what you wanted when you only dreamed of becoming a lawyer, and don't accept what you get - money - as the only thing that makes our profession worthwhile.

We want to be proud of our profession and ourselves. We spend a lifetime searching for respect and are devastated when we hear lawyer jokes and are rated below used car salesmen. In doing so, we forget that you cannot have public respect without first having self-respect. And it is our own self-respect that we chip away at when we 'do anything to win,' trash each other and beguile our ethics to keep a client happy.

Let's aim for something truly worthwhile: simple self-respect. If we are honest with ourselves and earn that self-respect, the respect of others will follow. +


Alan G. Greer is a senior partner with Richman, Greer, Weil, Brumbaugh, Mirabito & Christensen, a Miami and West Palm Beach, Fla. trial law firm, where he practices civil commercial litigation. He is currently serving on the ABA's Standing Committee on Professionalism.

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