Step 7 – Care About Character and Conduct Yourself Accordingly
We are reviewing Judge Carl Horn’s 12 Steps. This week, we explore Judge Horn’s encouragement to establish a solid ethical and moral foundation, to care about character and conduct ourselves accordingly. Much has been written about the erosion of professional courtesy and the refusal to extend common courtesies in our profession. This has led to a less pleasant and more stressed work environment. In the past, lawyers from various professional backgrounds would meet in more relaxed settings like bar meetings or a lounge at the courthouse, where they could get to know one another on a more personal basis. It was in this setting that codes of behavior were established and conveyed to younger lawyers. While a sense of community still exists, it now occurs more often at the specialty level. Lawyers now think of themselves as trial lawyers, or defense lawyers, beholden only to the rules of their specific community. Younger lawyers who have never been taught by mentors or the community at large about the professional codes of behavior may confuse advocacy with aggression. All of this leads to a pervasive distrust by lawyers of other lawyers.
Judge Horn says we should vow to do what most of us already know is right: strive to conduct ourselves honorably. We should treat others, including opposing counsel, as we ourselves would like to be treated. We should refuse to lie, cheat, or steal, however much pressure we are under, or however profitable the wrong choices may appear to be at that moment. Judge Horn also talks about the “slippery slope of ethical compromise” from which it is “awfully difficult to prevent a full slide into shameless dishonesty.” We become more cynical about the whole idea of right and wrong. An overall sense of fulfillment, difficult to achieve at best, will become more elusive still.
What are we to do? Do not pad your time sheets. Do not tell lies to partners, clients, or opposing counsel. Do not misrepresent legal authority to judges. Do not break your promises. Do not do anything else that is contrary to the values that you now hold. Promptly return phone calls and correspondence. Cooperate during discovery.
If we care about character and conduct ourselves accordingly, we will be able to sleep well at night. And, we will have taken one more important step toward finding satisfaction in the practice of law.
Next week, we will talk about Step 8 – “Just Say No” to Some Clients.