We are about to reach the 100 day milestone of the current POTUS, and with that come many criticisms and many “attaboys.” It’s all in the eye of the beholder. This POTUS is the first in a string NOT to be a lawyer. When you think about that, the fact that he is not a lawyer, nor has he ever served in any public service role, means he has had no formal training in the Constitution nor in either drafting, interpreting or applying legislation. These are things that lawyers do every day, day in and day out. That is pretty obvious. What may not be at the forefront of your mind when thinking about lawyers is the professionalism displayed by lawyers every day. Not only must lawyers as professionals in the practice of law abide by certain formal ethical rules and rules of professionalism, they must also insure they practice with a certain courtesy and respect for their opponents and for the judicial system that other people, say, real estate tycoons, for example, do not. So as we approach that 100 day marker for the POTUS, I have been thinking of a few things that POTUS, a non-lawyer, so far has failed to demonstrate consistently in the last 100 days and what he could learn from lawyers…things I think would naturally serve him, his administration and most importantly, the people of the United States, well.
- Be Impeccable With Your Word. A lawyer’s ability to advocate successfully for his or her client is only as good as his or her credibility, and credibility directly flows from being able to count on what a lawyer says as being true. No half-truths, no hedging the truth, no embellishment to make your facts seem just a little bit better than they really are. A lawyer must always tell the truth in all dealings or risk complete ineffectiveness, or worse, a client’s, or an opposing counsel’s, or a judge’s (gasp!) not being able to believe what the lawyer is telling them. Once that happens, all is lost. You may have heard this referred to as “your word is your bond.” The Cambridge Dictionary defines this as “If someone’s word is their bond, they always keep a promise.” Nothing is truer for a lawyer. Lawyers even have a duty of candor to the court to inform the court of case law or precedent that goes against their client’s position in court. Can you imagine a salesperson having to tell a customer that he could actually sell a car to you for less than what you, the customer, is willing to pay for it? Of course not, but lawyers are required to act with that much candor and honestly at all times before the Court. The ideals of professionalism in the practice of law are aimed at ensuring our profession remains a “high calling” and not “just a business like any other,” enlisted in the service not only of the clients, but of the public good as well. “A Lawyer’s Creed,” developed by the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism (the Commission), states it as thus: “To the courts, and other tribunals, and to those who assist them, I offer respect, candor, and courtesy. I will strive to do honor to the search for justice. ”
- Never Take Anything Personally. I think this is good advice for everyone, but especially lawyers must behave like this and are expected to do so. Trial lawyers must always do their jobs in an adversarial situation. By definition, there will also be another lawyer representing the opposing party in a lawsuit trying his or her level best to prevent you from succeeding. Think how hard this is! If we were talking about the profession of medicine and using surgery as our analogy, no other surgeon comes into an operating room to try to prevent the operating surgeon from performing the surgery successfully! No other doctor comes in and tries to kill your patient! But that is precisely what occurs in the practice of law. Every time I represent a client there is an opposing counsel trying to prevent me from succeeding. It’s pretty stressful, but would be even worse if the lawyer takes his opposing counsel’s efforts personally. The opposing counsel is just trying to do his job well, too. That’s all. And The Lawyer’s Creed requires lawyers to promise this to opposing counsel: “To my colleagues in the practice of law, I offer concern for your welfare. I will strive to make our association a professional friendship.” We also are required to make this promise: “To the opposing parties and their counsel, I offer fairness, integrity and civility. I will seek reconciliation and, if we fail, I will strive to make our dispute a dignified one.” Temper tantrums and other demonstrations of pettiness and “unsportsmanlike conduct” have no place in the legal profession. Following a trial, adversaries shake hands, regardless of the outcome. I have never had a problem shaking the hand of my able adversary when he or she has conducted himself or herself with integrity and professionalism throughout the litigation. It honors our justice system and your opponent. As Shakespeare wrote in “The Taming of the Shrew,” “do as adversaries do in law, strive mightily but eat and drink as friends.”
- Respect the Process. Again, the Lawyers Creed speaks to this axiom: “To the public and our systems of justice, I offer service. I will strive to improve the law and our legal system, to make the law and our legal system available to all, and to seek the common good through the representation of my clients.” In our law practices, Lawyers are responsible for protecting the rights of our clients. Many times, the outcome of our work can have life-changing consequences. No one is perfect, and winners and losers in the legal system are often determined by circumstances we cannot control. But lawyers must always act with honesty, integrity and courtesy in our service to the public and the justice system. When we lose, we do not whine about the refs (judges) and we do not refuse to accept defeat by trying to change the rules after a loss. We pull up our big boy pants (so to speak) and move on to try to determine what else we can do for our client.
- Quit Arguing After You Have Won. This may seem elementary, but you would be surprised how many people do it. This was one of the first lessons in court I learned, at a very early stage in my trial career: Stop arguing your case and don’t argue with the judge when you are winning. Shut up and sit down and get to work on something else. You don’t need to remind anyone you won. We know, YOU WON! Now get to work! I can’t tell you how many different judges I have heard say this about lawyers. It is a maxim that is timeless and ageless. Continuing to argue after you have already won smacks of pettiness and rubbing it into opposing counsel’s nose. There is no need to do that and it may, in fact, hurt rather than help. Just acknowledge the win and move on to the next issue. That is what we call a “good sport.” Learn to be one.
- It’s Not About You. In the practice of law, it’s never about you the lawyer. It’s about your client. When I stand in front of a judge or appellate bench, my case and my argument is not about me. I should remember never to try to make it about me. Some lawyers, admittedly, have super-sized egos that often drive them to make it about them. Lawyers must avoid the urge to do so. So must leaders of the Free World. As POTUS, it’s not about him, it’s about the American People, it’s about everyone else in the world, it’s not about you. Egos must be supplanted by intellect, kindness and empathy. Lawyers are representing someone else’s interests, not their own. Lawyers are speaking for someone else, not themselves. Lawyers are acting with their sacred oath to the laws of their state and the United States Constitution in mind, not their own individual rights and beliefs. Lawyers are in service to others. I often like to tell the story of Supreme Court of Georgia Justice Robert Benham’s recollection that when he was a little child, each morning at the breakfast table, his father would first ask, “What are you going to do today?” After the children would list the things they were planning to do to have fun that day, his father’s next question was always, “What are you going to do for someone else today?” What are you prepared to do for others?
As I have written this, I have realized there are far more than just five things POTUS could learn from lawyers. I’ll save that for another post. Ill leave you with the insightful words of Holcolme Perry, a former President of the State Bar of Georgia. As you read his beautiful words, replace “”lawyers” with “people” and you’ll get the gist of how I think POTUS can learn alot from lawyers. “The actions and sayings of one lawyer reflect credit or discredit on the rest of his professional brethren in the eyes of the public. The interests of all lawyers are inextricably woven together. Through such an organization, with all lawyers participating, we will come to have a better appreciation of the fact that we are all members of a great and honorable profession of which we should be proud, a more adequate understanding of our mutual problems, a keener knowledge of our faults and our virtues, with a mutual determination to eliminate the former and preserve and enhance the latter; and finally we will have the opportunity of establishing among ourselves a sense of brotherhood, mutual respect and trust and through all of this to strive diligently to improve the administration of justice in our state.”
Robin Frazer Clark pursues justice for those who have personal injury claims as a result of being injured in motor vehicle wrecks, trucking wrecks, defective products, defective maintenance of roads, premises safety, medical malpractice and other incidents caused by the negligence of others. Ms. Clark is the 50th President of the State Bar of Georgia and a Past President of Georgia Trial Lawyers Association and has practiced law in Georgia for 28 years. Mrs. Clark is listed as one of the Top 50 Women Trial Lawyers in Georgia and is a Georgia Super Lawyer. Robin Frazer Clark~Dedicated to the Constitution’s Promise of Justice for All.