Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Professionalism & The Business of Law

This month's Florida Bar Journal asks the question: "What Is Professionalism?" Within the last 2-3 decades, the idea of attorneys as professionals deserving the public's respect has suffered considerably. Polls conducted recently show that the average citizen regards attorneys as slightly more respectable than politicians but less than used car salesmen.

Throughout this time, the Florida Bar, Florida Supreme Court and the American Bar Association, among others have tried repeatedly to define professionalism with mixed results. As the author of the Florida Bar Journal's article on professionalism concludes, he knows professionalism "...when [he] see[s] it." The idea of further professional regulation comes naturally to attorneys who tend to view professionalism as more of a shortfall in ethics than in the business mentality governing the practice of law. Consequently attorneys across the United States are routinely subjected to CLE requirements "mandating professionalism".

This, of course, leads to the following questions:

How would you define "professionalism"?

Can a lack of professionalism be remedied by more rules governing professional ethics or is it more a symptom of the legal community's inability to function in the marketplace?

Are more successful attorneys really more professional? Are less successful attorneys less professional?

Could an attorney's high standards for professionalism be used as a marketing tool to attract clients? Would being able to do so encourage others to adopt higher standards?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my limited experience I have dealt with lawyers of various levels of experience in regard to length of practice, type of practice and skill/ability. It has occurred to me that many people mistake courtesy, friendliness, and wilingness to work for small fees as the defining characteristics of someone who is professional. Demanding to be paid on time and in full before continuing to work for a client is not unprofessional.

It also seems to be the perspective of the public at large that a lawyer who takes a legal position on a particular topic, case, etc... and shows an unwillingness to budge from that viewpoint and at the same time shows an unforgiving tenacity towards achieving victory for his client is somehow behaving in an unprofessional manner. In law school we are taught that this is zealous representation of our client. The dichotomy between the ABA canons of professionalism/ethics will always be at odds to the general publics idea of professionalism.

The lesson to be learned is that most people don't like lawyers because they don't like to be involved in lawsuits and nobody likes a lawyer until they need one.

Blogger Unknown Attorney said...

Well put Anon. Unfortunately, because of the way our legal education system works, we are oftentimes taught that the best way to modify behavior is through more rules and regulation. Furthermore, we are taught that the legal profession is impervious to the "dirty" market forces from which the rules of professional ethics and responsibility seek to shield the practice of law. In reality if "professionalism" or a method of distinguishing qualitative differentiation between pratitioners were to be encouraged by the Bar, I believe we would see professionalism become the cornerstone of any attorney's marketing strategy.

Blogger Unknown Attorney said...

BTW - thanks for your comments on the pictures. Today's photo is of the boat house at a resort Unknown Wife and I stayed at a few years ago in St. Lucia.

The one before it is the bar at the Shoreham Hotel on West 55th Street, New York.

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