The Ethics of Ethics
It’s been a while since my last post, but life has been anything but boring.
I recently attended “Guide to the Basics of Law Practice” which is the ethics course all new lawyers are required to take within their first year of licensure. I’ve had this brochure in my brief case since I received it back in November with my bar results, so it’s about time I took care of this.
Ethics is a word that you’ll often hear in law school and the State Bar, for one, thinks it’s crucial to the legal profession. We are required to take an ethics course in law school (at Texas Wesleyan it was called “Professional Responsibility”) and there’s even a separate state administered ethics exam (MPRE) that is part of the whole bar taking process. Once licensed, we have to take this ethics continuing legal education (CLE) class almost immediately and must earn three hours of ethics CLE every year to keep the license current. Any way you slice it, that’s a lot of ethics.
So why, if we lawyers are so steeped in ethics, is our profession generally thought to put little of that education into practice? Maybe as we get good at “thinking like lawyers” we get better at creating gray out of situations that are truly black and white. I suppose, a lot of times, that’s the essence of our job. The problem arises, however, when we start believing in the gray we create. I think the more mental gymnastics you have to do in order to get someone to buy into your argument, the more likely it is that you’re creating something out of nothing. That’s not good lawyering, that’s inviting your audience to buy into your fantasy when everyone sees it for what it is: Politics.
A recent experience ended on a sour note for just this reason. I found myself in an ethical dilemma where people I trusted engaged in some heavy-duty acrobatics trying to convince me of their sound reasoning. It would have been easier to just stay silent, but I couldn’t. My frustration and utter anger at the situation compelled me to speak up. And then I left—just walked out.
Later, I thought about what happened and wondered whether it mattered that I spoke up. In the end, nobody changed their mind, the plan that I vehemently opposed went forward anyway. I worried that because of this it would appear that I went along, when that was far from the case. But you know what, I know the truth and so do they. More importantly, they know that I will not be silent on issues that potentially compromise who I am as a person and as a lawyer. This is because as lawyers we really are held to a higher standard in everything we do, whether it’s in the course of our legal work or in our day to day endeavors as private citizens . I now know that when push comes to shove, I can live up to my ethical duty as a lawyer in all aspects of my life. And that, my friends, is priceless to me.