This post deals with a recent lawsuit filed against GAL by his former firm over ethical conduct by that firm. I truly believe there are more lawyers out there doing it right, than wrong. However, it is the bad lawyers that you hear about most in the halls of the court and at bar events. There are young attorneys who simply never see what the practice of law can be because their only experience is with a traditional hourly billing firm bent on generating profits, not results, for their clients.
So what if you are an attorney who wants to make a difference? Even if you are working for a large firm, you must realize that you can in fact make a difference. Perhaps the most important indicator of our profession is firm culture. Firm culture which constantly talks about the client’s interest, the client’s goals, and working within a client’s expectations or budgets is a firm which will inevitably find itself providing strong ethical service. So what can you do?
You can talk the talk and walk the walk. Even if you are an associate at a large firm, you can ask the right questions and start the right dialog. You can do so with your other associates. You can do so with your paralegals. And for those who are brave, you can even do that with the partners. For those partners out there, you have tremendous leverage to set the tone of the attorney-client experience at your firm. If every conversation you have is from the client’s point of view, others around you will start thinking from the client’s point of view. If you constantly question the ethics of a particular practice and encourage other attorneys to "look it up," you will take away from the stigma which ethics rules now have within firm culture. Instead of being a hindrance to profits, the ethics rules can become guideposts toward a strong client-service oriented firm.
The beauty of my firm and the success the firm has enjoyed is as a direct result of the fact that we are different in our town and nationally. Clients repeatedly tell us how grateful they are for the experience they had being represented by our law firm. They love our "client first" approach. It sets us apart, it brings in business, and yes, it generates profits. My message is this. You don’t have to be a money mongering, greedy, cynical, backstabbing, unethical lawyer to make a good living. You can do it the right way and succeed professionally and financially beyond the business model of greed.
So start blogging about the importance of ethics. Start talking at the water cooler about important client issues. Start questioning the cynicism that you see around you every day concerning the importance of remaining "professional" within our profession. At a minimum, stop participating in the dialog which drives the culture which has dragged us all down to the level of a used car salesperson. And for the brave, vote with your feet. Find a group of like-minded, skilled attorneys and start your own law firm. There is no reason not to. The more firms out there doing it right, the better chance we have of retaking our profession.