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April 20, 2023 Articles

What Every Young Lawyer Should Know about Professionalism

Remembering commonsense lessons of civility and clear communication can help young lawyers maintain professionalism. Strong mentorship and sponsorship relationships can help.

By Ebony S. Morris

Most young attorneys have a general idea of what professionalism entails from law school professionalism classes and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, but most young attorneys, especially newly admitted attorneys, do not have a practical understanding of professionalism rules. Navigating professionalism as a younger attorney is undoubtedly challenging and easier said than done, but along the way, we have learned the following lessons every young lawyer should know about professionalism and about the practice of law.

Always Be Civil

Yes, even when opposing counsel is difficult or intimidating. Patience is a virtue, and it is especially true in the legal profession. It can be difficult to take a step back or hold your peace when you are not being treated professionally. Everyone will experience that lawyer in their career who will be openly rude and unprofessional. However, it is important in these circumstances to take a step back, breathe, and respond in a professional and civil manner. There will, of course, be times when you need to walk away, temporarily, from the situation to give everyone a breather, but always do so with integrity and with your head held high. There is no sense in engaging with an overly aggressive opposing counsel, especially over email. If you find yourself on the receiving end of an offensive email, always wait until you have calmed down to respond to the email.

When another attorney is being discourteous and obnoxious, it is almost impossible not to match that attorney’s attitude and tone. Personally, I know it all too well, especially as a young minority attorney. But do not take the bait. Your most important objective is to never compromise when it comes to professionalism and when it comes to your “brand” as an attorney. Never compromise your integrity, respect, beliefs, or standards. It is OK make compromises in your legal position—that is what lawyers do to resolve cases—but never compromise your fundamental values as a lawyer or a person in this profession.

Finally, understand that attorneys are people first. There are times when other lawyers, including adversaries, are going through hard times, either professionally or personally. It could be a challenging client, colleague, or decision, or a personal matter outside of the office. Always extend grace and be compassionate, reasonable, and understanding, and keep in mind that you may also be in similar situations throughout your career. Be sure to exercise courtesy and professionalism by agreeing to extensions and other requests; however, do not allow opposing counsel to take advantage of you, and always act in your client’s best interest.

Effective Communication Is Key

Technology has made it so much easier to communicate over email, text, and private inbox messages rather than picking up the phone. Email “wars” are common, and we all have sent something we regretted later, especially from our phone. While those email wars are entertaining, they will undoubtedly backfire. When you have a dispute with opposing counsel or a disagreement with a colleague, I recommend picking up the phone or walking down the hall to discuss the matter. Hearing the other person’s voice and looking into the other person’s eyes demand more courtesy and respect than hiding behind a computer. Difficult disputes are more likely to be resolved by having an actual conversation. Take the extra few minutes to pick up the phone or have a face-to-face discussion. Discussing in person will almost always result in a quicker and more satisfying outcome and will eventually lead to a better relationship with opposing counsel. Likewise, it is equally important to maintain open lines of communication with your clients. It is important that you, as a young attorney, keep your client informed of significant developments in the case and ensure the client understands the process.

Find a Mentor and a Sponsor

Young attorneys must be vigilant about seeking a mentor and a sponsor, and then maintaining that relationship. In terms of professionalism, always seek his or her advice and take the opportunity to observe how he or she handles situations with adversaries and colleagues. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the challenges you will encounter as a lawyer. Knowing that you have trusted mentors and sponsors only a phone call away will be a tremendous asset to you as you navigate the early part of your career.


Practicing as a young attorney is an exhilarating and rewarding experience, but, at times, it can be overwhelming and stressful. With that in mind, it is even more important for attorneys, specifically newly admitted attorneys, to remember our responsibilities to each other and to the bar, even if some of our counterparts lose sight of that responsibility.

Professionalism in the practice of law gets results, is good for your brand, and is good for business. Acting professionally in a courtroom and with opponents will establish your credibility and will produce great results for you and for your client. Some of the most professional and successful lawyers realize that strong relationships with opposing counsel promote efficient resolution of disputes and lead to referrals of new business, which likely leads to a successful practice.

Ebony S. Morris is an associate at Phelps Dunbar LLP in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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