By Alan G. Greer
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?'
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. +
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.