Year End Professionalism Assessment

Once again, I’m going to feed off of the Mississippi 12th District Chancellor’s blog for this post. As you are likely aware, I am a big fan of his “trial by checklist” checklists. In yesterday’s post he encourages attorneys to use “the Christmas lull, that blessedly quiet period in the few days before and after Christmas,” (a lull I did not experience as an attorney, or now for that matter as I’ve a book deadline coming up) to perform a professionalism check-up. It a long post (apparently there is a pre-Christmas lull in the 12th District), but well worth reading in full. Here I’m just going to crib a part I find particularly applicable to paralegals as well as attorneys. Not surprisingly, it also echoes many of the points I make in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient and Professional:

Have you noticed how many times on this blog that I mention the importance of reading and keeping up with changes to the code, case law and the rules?  I hammer away at it because it is not only essential to your success as an attorney, but also to the benefit of your client.  Too often we think of professionalism as ethics, but I challenge you to think of professionalism not only in ethical terms, but also in terms of competence and how you present yourself and represent clients.

Given all of this, I contend that it’s time to consider a few changes to the way you do business that will make you a better lawyer and make your clients more pleased with your performance.  And if you are doing one or all of these, more power to you.  Here they are:

    • Before you file your next probate matter, read the rules and look over the applicable statutes.  You will be amazed what you will find.  If nothing else, you will be shocked to see what a heavy load of responsibility you are taking on by signing and filing those pleadings.
    • For that matter, look back at the code the next time you file some familiar pleadings and look for changes you might have missed or some other little twist in the law you may have always overlooked.
    • Carefully read over every pleading before it’s filed.  Be honest: you let your secretary do most of your pleadings, don’t you?  Do you know that they’re right?  Are they up to date?  Remember that everything you produce is a portrait of yourself.
    • Read the appellate court decisions each and every week without fail.  Court of Appeals hand downs are on Tuesdays after lunch, and Supreme Court’s are on Thursdays after lunch.  As you run across case law that will help you in pending cases, print out the decisions and put them in those files for use in court.
    • Read the rules.  Lawyers who know and follow the rules generally impress judges as better lawyers because, quite frankly, they are better lawyers, and better lawyers can get better results.
    • Read the statutes.  Before you file that habeas, read the law.  If you’re wondering how to sell a parcel of real property in an estate, look for a statute in the code.  The answer to how to record and enforce a judgment is in the code.
    • Use your brain.  It seems to me that too many young lawyers want to get by with a fill-in-the-blank practice.  No innovative approach, no novel arguments based on sound research, no extra effort.  It’s so refreshing as a judge to see lawyer come into court with a soundly-prepared approach to a legal problem that is well supported by authority.
    • Advise your client.  If you simply do what the client says to do, you are not a lawyer, you are merely your client’s alter ego with a license; you are a tool.  Guide your client in the right way to go.  Influence what your client wishes to do with your judgment and knowledge.  If your client demands you to do something unethical or questionable, try to persuade him or her to take another course, and if they refuse, file a motion to withdraw.  Tell your client up front what the chances of success are.  Never take on the cause of a client who is seeking vendetta as opposed to legal redress; the former is malicious, and the latter is justice.

These are merely a starting point.  As a lawyer you have a duty not only to your client, but also to advance the profession.  It only takes a little time and devotion each day.  And if you are not devoted to your profession, perhaps you need to find something else to do.

Professionalism requires not only that you zealously represent your client, but also that you do it competently.

Take advantage of this quiet time and take a look at yourself and your career.  It will be a rewarding investment of your time.

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  • Tommi says:

    First of all, I enjoy and appreciate you telling me about your blog. Now that I am down to a much more reasonable schedule of only 40-60 hours a week, I finally have time to read for “fun” or to play catch-up with all of this “legal” stuff. The more time that I now spend in the company of lawyers, the more that I am starting to understand that they want “paralegals” who know as much as an attorney but who they only want to pay very little for this knowledge (and since we don’t have J.D.’s that somehow makes it all right). I would like to remind the “boss-man” attorney that he wasn’t infused at birth with an encyclopedic knowledge of the law. Give a girl a break I just started learning a few very broad topics about an infinitely complex system of rules, regulations, and foreign thought processes about two years ago. I can see why people who have been doing this a few years earn more. There is a lot to learn.

    I can also understand how nice checklists would be. I am unfortunately attempting to learn how to be a “paralegal” with only an on-going college education of the job and creating a job for myself with a solo attorney (who was fired from his last firm for refusing to take a “Ms. Manner’s class” on how to be less of an *ss). He has no known system for anything that I have figured out so far. I have access to all of his work, but it is an as I figure it out on my own process with very little method to his madness.

    But, as difficult as my “boss’s” system is, your competency comment brought to mind a recent transcript of a hearing that I found and read at the office, and it was not my boss’s competency in question. In a motion of her own, this attorney admitted to the judge of not knowing the “legalities” of the issue at hand. She will be an ADA next month. I am now officially terrified of an attorney who could be so bold as to admit on the record that she didn’t know the law about a point she was bringing up in her petition.

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