Indeed, the rules of professional conduct make this abundantly clear. But there is a compelling reason beyond mere ethical compliance for taking a more holistic (rather than mercenary) approach to one’s law practice: It makes for far better lawyering.
Spend a little time each week thinking about what it means to be a lawyer.
A Holistic Approach to Law Practice
At the heart of a holistic approach to law practice is a recognition that the disputes we handle as lawyers are not about us. Ideally, lawyers are servants. Our clients come to us when they are vulnerable and in dire need of guidance. And the last thing a client needs is a lawyer who merely fans the flames of discord.
What a client does need is for someone to dispassionately analyze the situation and come up with a game plan for quickly resolving the dispute—i.e., a problem solver. Unfortunately, this approach is much more difficult to market to a person in the midst of emotional turmoil. Indeed, prospective clients will often express a desire for a “pitbull attorney” who will inflict pain and misery on their adversaries.
But that is not what a client needs and a lawyer has an obligation to channel the client’s emotions in a constructive manner. This does not just promote the cause of professionalism but also inures to the benefit of the client.
The reality is that many cases are won or lost due to the reputations of the attorneys involved, and a fanatical, win-at-any-cost lawyer is not doing the client’s cause any favors. It may warm a client’s heart to hear her attorney bluster on about how she has suffered a grave injustice, but if that rhetoric has no basis in the law or undermines a valid legal position, then it ultimately serves no purpose.
A good attorney knows this to be true. A good attorney recognizes that effectively representing a client begins and ends with zealously guarding her reputation and going above and beyond the baseline of ethical standards imposed by our profession.
My Challenge to Law Students and Young Lawyers
So, my challenge to law students and young lawyers is this: Spend a little time each week thinking about what it means to be a lawyer. Consider what an honor it is to serve our fellow citizens during their most challenging times. And remember that every time you file a pleading or brief (or make an appearance in court), you are either harming or building up your reputation.
It may sound trite, but the old adage really is true: Your most precious asset as a lawyer is your reputation. Treat it as such.