Lawyer – Still a Noble Profession?

Lawyer a Noble ProfessionLawyers, by and large, cop a fair battering from media.  After all, media about lawyers ripping people off, betraying trust of their clients, acting irresponsibly, failing to pay their taxes, “chasing ambulances” or the like resonate, sadly, with a lot of the general populace.

It is disappointing to me that lawyers seem to have become more of an object of suspicion than admiration.

This was brought home to me a little while ago after an article by the Legal Services Commission lambasted lawyers generally for what is alleged to be systemic wrongful billing practices.  The Queensland Law Society responded to that allegation with a restrained and factual piece about the relatively small number of complaints against the overall number of legal service providers.

I don’t propose to weigh in to that debate.  What is clear, however, is that there is a perception in some circles that lawyers are greedy, selfish and arrogant.  We have become in the eyes of many a mere necessary evil rather than a force for positive change.  The truth of that is debatable, but the perception is probably not.

I propose, however, that we should and can be much more than a necessary evil.  We should be trusted advisers, upright citizens and beyond reproach.  Our interests should not be our own, but should be those which align with the discharge of our duties to the Court, to our Client and to the Law.

Arguing the point might come second nature to lawyers, but in my experience arguing a point has rarely convinced anyone of anything.  Engagements like that LSC vs QLS that I have mentioned above might be necessary from time to time, but public perception of lawyers is unlikely to be altered in any meaningful way.

So how can we try and shift public perception?  How can lawyers be seen to be a force for good, as trusted advisers and providers of expert assistance.  I think it begins not with arguing, but with DOING.

Here are my starting suggestions, which are just a few of many possibilities – I welcome any more!

  • Have integrity.  Integrity has to be the mainstay of your practice.  Integrity will put your self-interest behind the higher good.  Integrity will not let you get involved in saving face, in finger pointing or in blame shifting – rather, integrity will ensure that you do what you say, and you take responsibility for your actions.
  • Be amazing!  OK – this could just be a blatant excuse to link another article of mine, but I actually believe it as well.  Why aim for mediocre?  Aim for Amazing!
  • Be up front.  A common concern about lawyers is that they are sneaky.  As a lawyer you have a duty of candour and frankness to the Court.  I encourage you to apply those concepts throughout your life and your entire practice.
  • Be diligent.  You’ve got a hard job, there’s no doubting it.  Step up – take a deep breath – and make sure you do what you are there to do.
  • Go above and beyond.  Always be thinking about what MORE can I offer my client?  What else can I do for the community?  How can I step up and actively effect positive change in the world.  How can I raise the standard for lawyers and for the community generally through my example?
  • Stay humble and grateful.  If you have been given the opportunity to study law, go to university and the capacity to practice law – then you have been blessed.  You are entrusted with the wonderful task of helping people every day.  What an awesome privilege!

Need more inspiration?  What do Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln all have in common?  You guessed it – all lawyers.  Read their stories if you haven’t already, and see how they became the agents for change.

There is such a great opportunity for lawyers to contribute positively to society – not with a view to any gain of their own, but with a view for raising standards of behaviour around the world.  We are educated, articulate and (in my experience) hard workers – put those talents to use! We should be a body of professionals that are beyond reproach, that people aspire to, and that we are proud to be involved in.

Is that one of your goals?  If not – why not?  If you are on board here, why not put the way YOU are going to raise the bar in the comments below!

Have a great day – go now and raise the bar!

Happy Lawyering!

 

  • It is interesting this is labelled ‘kick start your career’. I couldn’t agree more with your sentiments, it is what should drive our profession, but a better title under current recruitment practices might be ‘how to kill your career stone dead’. A most lamentable state of affairs but sadly true although most recruiters and firm HR would of course exercise that other great skill of the legal profession, plausible denial of the clearly evident.
    Early career lawyers who display a social conscience and act on that are considered trouble makers and ‘would be of concern to our major clients’, a direct quote. The three giants you cited as being the stand out examples of who a lawyer should be I count as my greatest heroes and not one of them would get past the first hurdle in the selection process.
    Other than ‘bleeding heart’ community legal NFPs, a recruiter who sent the likes of Lincoln, Gandhi or Mandela to a firm for interview wouldn’t last a week, despite Gandhi’s reputation for the precision of his drafting of deeds of agreement, leases and contracts..He was by all reports a most excellent commercial lawyer. His skills as a hard arse negotiator are self evident but so are his ‘undesirable qualities’. You know the drill Mohandas ‘ due to the number of quality candidates…’, ‘not quite what our client is looking for…’, ‘your CV’s great but…’.
    Society needs great advocates – for all sides, firms need great fee generators and bills have to be paid – guess who wins.

    • Hi there Serge – thanks for your comments, which I think are really relevant. I expect you are right – trouble makers (or those perceived to be trouble makers, at least) are unlikely to be viewed as ideal candidates. Rather, those who demonstrably excel at towing the line and who do not offer any opportunity for risk are likely to be viewed are the more ideal candidate.

      I think that is both understandable and a bit regrettable.

      The principle aim of this article, however, was to encourage lawyers to conduct themselves with the highest possible ethics. That need not necessarily include taking up community causes (although I admit my second last dot point suggested it could). Rather, it involves conducting one’s practice in such a way that inspires trust and confidence – in an effort to dispel the image portrayed by the media.

      That said, I think (maybe optimistically) it is possible to be an agent for good in the world without being a firebrand. Our zeal for any particular cause needs also to be tempered by wisdom in our communication and our decision making. The ability to persuade without antagonizing is, in my mind at least, a very important one for any lawyer.

      Thanks again!

      Best,
      Chris

  • I am the senior in-house counsel in one of the largest statutory bodies in Queensland and I regularly interact with external law firms.

    I have found that the external lawyers provide poor quality work at exasperating prices. I was once charged 10k for, effectively, an ASIC fact sheet [the bill was not paid, btw].

    Overcharging may have been fine when they were getting instructions from project officers, but the proliferating in-house counsel can spot the tricks (and failures) of advice provided by private practitioners. Two years ago (when I came on board), my client spent about 1m on legal fees. Now, we rarely out-source as the quality was not worth the money.

    In my experience, private practice lawyers often deserve the reputation for greed and sneakiness.

    Large law firms will eventually dry up as in-house counsel become increasingly incorporated into the modern workplace. Unfortunately, I can just see smaller clients being ripped off as the large ones disappear.

    • Hi there,
      Thanks for offering that perspective from an in-house point of view. It’s obviously disappointing that your experience with private practice has been so negative. Most practitioners I know go out of their way to provide quality service to their clients, especially those such as your company with a legal spend of $1m p.a. That said, I’m sure that even the most diligent practitioners have plenty of room for improvement in any number of areas! Not sure I agree with you that law firms will dry up – I think they will have a place for a long while yet.

  • I also am an in-house lawyer and my experience with external advisers has been mostly positive. I have had the privilege to work with “trusted advisors” who are focussed on providing high quality advice when asked but also in being on hand for those “I’m having issues with this what do you think ” sort of questions. They have not been interested in charging for every encounter and instead are on hand to foster a relationship. In my experience the more you are able to inform and empower your external advisers and (where appropriate) make them a partner in decision making they are in a better position to provide a value add. I think for the external adviser dealing with in-house counsel in many respects makes the the advisers job easier, as the In-house lawyer has a higher understanding of the intricacies of their organization – which is arguably the most valuable attribute of in-house counsel to the organization. regardless of In-house or external advisor, the key to being a good advisor is to understand your clients business, risk profile and objectives and to provide clear, pragmatic, relevant and timely advice. I have been on the receiving end of highly academic cover all advices from top end law firms which tell you nothing – these advisors are soon weeded out by in-house counsel.

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