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Practice Management

The Burden of Our Privilege

Barry Daniel Malone

The Burden of Our Privilege
Marco_Piunti via iStock

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Every lawyer in the United States swears an oath. Swearing the lawyer’s oath is the admission ticket to the privilege of practicing law. Each state’s oath varies. However, there is a similarity in all oaths: every lawyer swears to support the Constitution of the United States.

Your Oath Requires Active Participation

Supporting the Constitution may seem a natural thing for lawyers. But what does it actually mean? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, "support" means “to promote the interests or cause of” or “to uphold or defend as valid or right.” Promote, uphold, and defend are verbs. Verbs are action words. Implicitly, one cannot promote, uphold, or defend passively.

Your Oath Is Unconditional 

Further, no lawyer’s oath administered in the United States contains any conditional language. No lawyers swear to support the US Constitution so long as it comports with their personally desired outcome or what’s in their client’s best interest.

Your Oath Is 24–7

Similarly, no lawyer’s oath contains a temporal limitation. A lawyer isn’t sworn to promote, uphold, and defend the US Constitution during business hours only or just while actively litigating a matter. Without a specific limitation, a lawyer must follow the oath always.

This oath places a burden on all lawyers. Every lawyer, meaning you, if you are one, has the affirmative duty—always—to promote, uphold, and defend the US Constitution. Every action a lawyer takes, both personally and professionally, must comport with this sworn duty. Even further, every inaction of a lawyer must comply.

Your Oath Requires You to Support the Constitution, Especially When It's Hard

No lawyer’s oath explains the proper manner for supporting the US Constitution. The easiest way to adhere to a lawyer’s oath is not to promote laws that are likely unconstitutional. But most aspects of being a lawyer are difficult. What are the hardest ways to obey your oath? Are you obligated to defend the US Constitution when no one is paying you to do so? What about when you believe the outcome justifies the constitutional infringement? In situations where you have no personal stake in the events? Yes, you are obligated to act in support of the US Constitution in all situations, especially where it’s the hardest for you.

Lawyers accepted the responsibility, challenge, and opportunity to support the US Constitution to the best of their abilities, in whatever fashion most appropriate, all the time.

Are You Meeting Your Burden?

It’s possible that a contemporary person could go his entire life without taking an oath. That person will never be a lawyer. Lawyers chose a harder life. That’s the burden of our privilege.