Professionalism seminar urges lawyers to reaffirm oath
On the first day of law school, law students are given somewhat unsettling words of wisdom, intended as both advice and a warning: a lawyer’s reputation is the foundation of his or her entire career. It is not easily built, but is very easily broken. And it starts now.
On Mar. 26, the Levin College of Law hosted a professionalism seminar co-sponsored by the Levin College of Law, The Eighth Judicial Circuit Bar Association, and David B. Mishael, P.A., for practicing legal professionals to convene and discuss the state of professionalism in the practice of law.
“There is no topic that we discuss at any of these conferences that is more important than what we will talk about today,” said Levin College of Law Dean Robert Jerry in his welcoming comments. Jerry referred to professionalism as “the essence of who we are as lawyers.”
Judge Martha Lott also offered introductory remarks and praised her fellow judges and practicing attorneys in the Eighth Judicial Circuit for upholding the highest standards of professionalism and ethical practice. Her colleague Senior Judge Stan R. Morris presented the keynote presentation titled, “Professionalism: the Path to the Independence of Lawyers & the Judicial Branch.”
Morris discussed the vital role of professionalism in order to rebuild a positive public image of attorneys. He conversely discussed the way in which a lack of professionalism has led to negative stereotypes of lawyers. Morris pinpointed these negative stereotypes as responsible for the legislature’s growing power over how the judiciary functions, as well as the reason for only a dwindling number of attorneys serving as elected representatives in the legislature.
Morris warned that if the reputation of the legal profession continues to decline, the judicial branch’s independence will be further eroded by legislation that dictates court procedures and even outcomes. Lamenting that “[lawyers] are shown to do anything to get clients and win cases…and routinely portrayed as lying,” Morris emphasized that “our profession needs to rebuild to maintain the respect of the American people.”
Reminding the audience members of their promise, made under oath, to uphold the values of professionalism and ethical practice, Morris challenged them to reaffirm their ethical commitment to the practice of law, and to practice in a manner throughout their careers such that they are able to look back at the end of their legal practice and know that they kept their promise. Morris further extolled the virtues of practicing honorably and ethically, for both the benefit of an attorney’s individual practice and the greater implications of how professionalism among attorneys collectively impacts the judicial branch of government.
“We must be professional because we must maintain the trust of the people and maintain our country’s belief in the underlying rule of the law,” Morris urged.
The seminar concluded with attendees splitting into smaller discussion groups, each led by a judge, a Levin College of Law faculty member, and an attorney. The discussion groups focused on professionalism in the areas of criminal law, estates & trusts, family and domestic relations, personal injury and insurance, and transactional and commercial law. Faculty discussion leaders were Professor Jennifer Zedalis, Professor Danaya Wright, Professor Jeff Grater, Professor Joe Little, and Professor Jeffrey Davis, respectively.