Many lawyers today are unhappy with their professional lives. A New York Times article concluded that, “Job dissatisfaction among lawyers is widespread, profound and growing worse.” A bar publication reported that a survey revealed that more than 40 percent of the lawyers in a Midwestern state would not choose to be lawyers if they could make a career decision once again.
In her book, The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (Ret.) of the Supreme Court of the United States expressed the opinion that a decline in professionalism is partly responsible for this dissatisfaction. She quoted Dean Roscoe Pound as saying that a profession is “a group . . . pursuing a learned art as a common calling in the spirit of public service—no less a public service because it may incidentally be a means of livelihood.” She emphasized that following graduation from law school, lawyers assume the obligations of professionalism, which include obligations toward legal institutions and to the public. I agree fully with Justice O’Connor.
Lawyers have a bountiful cafeteria of bar activities from which they may choose, either at the national, state, or local levels. For example, the directory of our state bar lists 34 standing committees, 10 special committees, and 40 sections, and there are 26 Young Lawyers Division committees; no matter what one’s practice may be, there is almost certainly a committee or section that should be of genuine interest to every lawyer and to which each of us can contribute. I believe that a lawyer who actively supports the organized bar and seeks to strengthen the profession itself, as distinguished from narrow practice concerns, almost always winds up being a better lawyer than otherwise would be the case.
Some years ago, Dr. James T. Laney, who was then the president of Emory University in Atlanta, spoke to a national professional group at my request. He selected the topic, “The Law—A Moral Aristocracy.” He said:
If I were to ask the numbers of [the group to which he spoke] who the most influential members of the bar have been in their lives, if you were honest you would probably not pick the ones who had the most lucrative careers, but the ones who had the greatest impact upon who you are and your values.
Every lawyer can make a real contribution to the profession by serving as a mentor for younger lawyers—by exhibiting as a lawyer the core values of professionalism. As the old saying goes, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.”
I have now been practicing for more than 50 years. Notwithstanding our faults, I am proud of the legal profession. I believe there is a renewed interest in professionalism.
It is right for us to “give back” to the profession and the public by supporting the organized bar. We lawyers should give back some of our time and resources so as to benefit the profession and to better serve the public interest.
Reprinted with permission from A Life in the Law: Advice for Young Lawyers by William S. Duffey Jr. and Richard A. Schneider, eds. ©2009 by the American Bar Association. All rights reserved.