|Meredith H. Maust
If I were to say “ethical attorneys” in front of a group of people, I am likely to hear a joke or two that will, inevitably, conclude with the idea that this phrase is an oxymoron. Oh, the discomfort that comes when I casually remind the jokester that, not only am I an attorney, but not all attorneys are corrupt.
So, you have suspended reality to consider that not all attorneys are corrupt, but the jokes about attorneys exist because there are unethical attorneys out there. You know the type: lawyers who perform unnecessary tasks to create more billable hours from their clients; those who are dishonest and misrepresent the reality of a case to their clients; those who fail to communicate once they have your retainer; and those who seem more focused on representing their personal interests and financial gain rather than those of the clients’. I am not unfamiliar with attorneys who fall into these categories.
Well, if I can admit lawyer jokes have merit, why is it that I am so unwilling and unable to graciously accept the humorous denigration of my chosen profession?
It is as simple as this: a lot of attorneys dedicate their practice to upholding a tradition of integrity, client loyalty, honesty and a commitment to ethical standards. We work hard to fight for our clients, for an outcome that we believe in and we do so without exploiting the system and those whom we represent.
We work hard to stay true to ourselves, to maintain our ideals and ethical practice of the law. As such, the generalization hurts. Not all lawyers are created equally. Not all doctors deserve a license to practice medicine, not all mechanics are trustworthy and, well, perhaps I should altogether stay away from commenting on politicians at any level. There are bad apples in every lot, in every profession, but that should not affect those of us who take genuine pride in their commitment to providing the best service to those in need.
Ask an attorney why they decided to become a lawyer. The attorneys with whom I associate will provide a genuine response that has nothing to do with making money. Many of us chose this profession to make a difference and to help others. Many of us have personal reasons for choosing our specific practice area. These are the lawyers that put time and effort into providing individualized service and attention to clients, who maintain ethical standards of practice despite going up against opposition that pays no heed to the regulated codes of conduct to which all lawyers are required to adhere. It takes true commitment to provide zealous representation of our clients without devolving into the lawyer who condones the unprincipled tactics of unethical opposition by choosing to retaliate with similar practices.
I can admit most attorneys are competitive know-it-alls. We are constantly engaging in some sort of challenge or debate. Whether it is over the interpretation of the law or a simple dispute over the facts, attorneys want to be the one with the answers, want to be right, and want to win. The difference is, there are lawyers who will resort to any means necessary to win and those of us who want the win for our client; those of us who believe we can achieve a positive outcome without sacrificing our integrity.
I advise people looking for legal representation to meet with a few different attorneys before retaining counsel. You will be able to tell who is a good fit for you and, by reserving judgment, you will find those of us who are here to help.