I think many, too many, lawyers have forgotten what the ethics rules (“Rules of Professional Conduct”) really say. I encourage every lawyer (especially school district counsel) to go back and read their ethics rules (each state has their own, based on the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct) periodically. This will help them understand that the role of lawyer is not just to make money.
Here are some ethics rules you might not have known, excerpted from the Preamble to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct:
• A lawyer, as a member of the legal profession, is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.
• A lawyer who commits fraud in the conduct of a business is subject to discipline for engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.
• In all professional functions a lawyer should be competent, prompt and diligent. A lawyer should maintain communication with a client concerning the representation.
• A lawyer should use the law’s procedures only for legitimate purposes and not to harass or intimidate others. A lawyer should demonstrate respect for the legal system and for those who serve it, including judges, other lawyers and public officials.
• As a public citizen, a lawyer should seek improvement of the law, access to the legal system, the administration of justice and the quality of service rendered by the legal profession.
• In addition, a lawyer should further the public’s understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system because legal institutions in a constitutional democracy depend on popular participation and support to maintain their authority.
• A lawyer should be mindful of deficiencies in the administration of justice and of the fact that the poor, and sometimes persons who are not poor, cannot afford adequate legal assistance.
• A lawyer is also guided by personal conscience and the approbation of professional peers. A lawyer should strive to attain the highest level of skill, to improve the law and the legal profession and to exemplify the legal profession’s ideals of public service.
• These principles include the lawyer’s obligation zealously to protect and pursue a client’s legitimate interests, within the bounds of the law, while maintaining a professional, courteous and civil attitude toward all persons involved in the legal system.
• The legal profession has a responsibility to assure that its regulations are conceived in the public interest and not in furtherance of parochial or self-interested concerns of the bar.
• Lawyers play a vital role in the preservation of society. The fulfillment of this role requires an understanding by lawyers of their relationship to our legal system. The Rules of Professional Conduct, when properly applied, serve to define that relationship.
My favorite of these is that “A lawyer is also guided by personal conscience”; in other words, lawyers should not be guided simply by the pursuit of money, but rather should be guided by a set of morals. I think this is the one that lawyers most often forget. That being an attorney is not just a job; what makes it a “profession” is that we act as professionals and use good, sound, moral judgment in using our license to practice law in any capacity.
Please always keep this in mind.