Professionalism in the Family Law Context - ABA YLD 101 Practice Series

By Maggie Trahan Simar

The American Bar Association's Preamble to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct sets out the scope of the Model Rules. In the Family Law Context, several of the statements are particularly notable. Some of the most important are as follows:

  • [1] A lawyer, as a member of the legal profession, is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.
  • [2] ... As advocate, a lawyer zealously asserts the client's position under the rules of the adversary system. As negotiator, a lawyer seeks a result advantageous to the client but consistent with requirements of honest dealings with others..
  • [4] In all professional functions a lawyer should be competent, prompt and diligent...
  • [5] A lawyer's conduct should conform to the requirements of the law, both in professional service to clients and in the lawyer's business and personal affairs. A lawyer should use the law's procedures only for legitimate purposes and not to harass or intimidate others. A lawyer should demonstrate respect for the legal system and for those who serve it, including judges, other lawyers and public officials...

The Model Rules set up means and methods by which all attorney's should strive to maintain the highest professional (and ethical) courtesies towards each other, clients, the courts and other legal personnel. Unfortunately, in this age of law as a business, the young lawyer may sometimes be called upon to participate in unprofessional behavior. Particularly in the family law context, where the modus operandi of some clients is to "one up" the opposing party, professionalism rules should play an essential role in guiding the young lawyer to a successful and satisfying legal career.

Here is a typical situation - a young lawyer has practiced family law for some years, and is well acquainted with the law. His opponent, an attorney who does mainly corporate work, shows up in court on the day of trial. After speaking with the opponent, the young lawyer realizes the corporate attorney has no idea of a new law, which makes the corporate attorney's position completely incorrect. What is the professional thing to do in this situation?

Common sense tells you that it is patently unfair to take advantage of a situation such as this, especially if the adverse party would be prejudiced by his attorney's failure to understand the law surrounding the case. Clearly the rules concerning an attorney's duty to know the law may have been breached by the corporate attorney; however, of more concern is whether or not the young lawyer has an obligation to alert the corporate attorney of the law change. What do you think? What are our responsibilities to members of our profession? Are lawyers held to a higher standard than doctors, teachers, or accountants?

The ABA Young Lawyers Division adopted a Pledge of Professionalism at their Annual Meeting in 1988, wherein they specifically outlined what Young Lawyers should strive to achieve. Those rules include a pledge to subordinate business concerns to professional behavior, encouraging respect for the law and its participants, dedication to pro bono work, resolutions to resolve cases expeditiously, keeping clients informed and being proficient and courteous. (Citations omitted).

Clearly, a young lawyer has all the same professional mandates that our more seasoned counterparts do. However, what sets the young lawyer apart is that we were educated on the rules of professionalism in law school. We have no excuse for unprofessional behavior. As such, our goal should be to maintain the most informed, courteous and ethical behavior towards all participants in the legal process.

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About the Author

Maggie Trahan Simar, Family Court Hearing Officer Sixteenth Judicial District, Louisiana

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