There is a fever in America as we speak. This fever is operating at a really excessive pitch, and it has nothing to do with the pandemic.
It is a fever of indecency, and it has contaminated our establishments, our folks and our social discourse. It is altering relationships and stifling progress. It is protecting us from being the perfect we may be. And it’s infecting the authorized career.
The medical manifestations of this fever embrace name-calling, derision, intimidation, bullying, the distortion of fact, an unwillingness to compromise, a scarcity of caring and a reluctance to serve others.
The authorized career is complicit within the unfold of this fever and its underlying inflammation. That is plain to anybody conversant in present authorized practices. And the questions are: How did it occur, and what’s going to we do about it?
i’ve been writing about decency and its significance to the honorable apply of regulation for nearly a decade. Never, nevertheless, has that topic appeared extra vital and pertinent to me than it does as we speak.
The social and political upheaval that has been plaguing our nation in recent times appears to have uncovered the failure of decency and honorable habits in our society, because it additionally has inside our career. How this occurred at such an accelerated tempo isn’t clear, but it surely has triggered me to contemplate two potentialities.
Either some attorneys in America have turn out to be accustomed to disrespect, indecency and a scarcity of dignity in our politics and establishments and have allowed it to seep into their skilled lives, or the inflammation of indecency is born of a few of these attorneys, themselves, and it has unfold from them into our politics and establishments. Honestly, I have no idea which is true.
But I do know that, as attorneys, we probably have larger entry to the precepts of honorable habits and ideas of decency and fairness than members of the society at giant. Isn’t that what the ABA Model Code of Professional Responsibility are all about? Isn’t that what’s taught in persevering with authorized formal training programs, that are licensure necessities for attorneys?
In 2016, I wrote a piece for Corporate Counsel journal, which included my observations on our tradition of greed, that by then, had contaminated the regulation career. Those feedback have been made inside the context of workaholic life and the bigger subject of work-life steadiness. However, my warning that greed might convey our career down, in the identical approach that the greed of Wall Street and banking establishments led to the 2008 recession, put it into a bigger societal context.
Now, 4 years later—and what looks like a political, skilled and social eternity—I nonetheless am bothered by the identical questions I had then. What, if something, is to be gained by our career from participation in a tradition of greed that depends upon parts of indecency, disrespect and dishonor?
The apparent solutions are the lure of earnings and regulation agency scores that translate into energy. And, if that’s true, how lengthy will it take earlier than the obsession with cash and energy will heap destruction on the standard sure values of our career?
Lawyers as obstructors of society run amok
There is a cause that Shakespeare wrote, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Although this passage from King Henry VI is commonly cited by those that detest attorneys, the whole thing of the work doesn’t help that interpretation.
Rather, it’s clear from the context of the play that Shakespeare acknowledged the regulation career as a repository of decency and honor and the entrance line protector of honest and simply habits—and that its members have been the very ones who might convey the dangerous guys like Shakespeare’s villain Dick the Butcher to justice. Without the attorneys as obstructors, the hordes of humanity might run wild and break down the beloved establishments that they had come to resent.
Yet, it appears that evidently far too many attorneys as we speak are inclined to surrender that notion of standing for good, protecting the peace, facilitating justice and embodying sure values. They have allowed the consequences of greed and a misplaced emphasis on energy to contaminate their character and deform the career in unimagined methods.
One can discover examples of attorneys’ indecent habits on show practically each day in our nationwide media. Some of those attorneys are in excessive positions at enterprise organizations, and their crimes embrace accepting bribes and “cooking the books” to retain cash and energy. Others are high-ranking authorities officers, who, as “yes” women and men, have offered out to the darkish aspect, simply to be seated on the proper hand of energy.
And many are in politics serving as elected members of Congress and state legislatures—or their authorized consultants and advisers—who’re the authors and supporters of misinformation, lies and character assassinations and who ascribe to the speculation that profitable is all that issues.
Commenting on the political maneuvering associated with the latest U.S. presidential election this fall, Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas addressed the idea of decency, saying, “Decent losers are more important for the function of a democracy than radiant winners.”
But we now have seen treasured little of that recently. At one time, we believed that state bar associations, bar commissions and apply/ethics committees would weed out the undesirables amongst us earlier than they have been in a position to wreak havoc on the career. But we all know higher as we speak. Adequate policing from inside our career has not occurred.
What attorneys can do to seed change
So, in what could also be an ironic twist for attorneys, we should suppose smaller if we’re going to shield what’s price defending. Just like inner-city group activists, we should perceive that it’s incumbent on us to resolve the issue one neighborhood at a time.
We want to start out by cleansing our own homes, and we now have to say one thing if we see one thing. We want to take a look at the practices and insurance policies inside our own regulation corporations and regulation organizations and ask the elemental query as as to whether these insurance policies and practices promote skilled behaviors based on respect, decency and honor or whether or not these behaviors are based on selfishness and greed and trigger hurt to colleagues and marginalize people and cohorts.
It is a simple take a look at. It is principally what our moms and dads taught us about proper and mistaken. The onerous half is in eliminating these dangerous behaviors, even when they derive from extremely worthwhile practices and private achieve, with the attention that the well-being of attorneys and the elevation of honorable behaviors will maintain us quite than destroy us.
Historian Jon Meacham explored that subject lately in a Town & Country journal article. “Decency is drawn from the Latin decentia, meaning ‘being fitting,’ a definition that presupposes that there is a widely shared set of values against which we can judge the fittingness of certain behaviors,” Meacham stated.
“Put another way, decency has to be sufficiently prevalent that we notice when things … are indecent, for such conduct stands out to us as beyond the norms of acceptable,” he added.
Similarly, Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America, stated within the print model of the article (November 2020) that decency is the “seeing of others.” “It requires an acknowledgment of value outside of oneself. It is an expression of humanity,” Babineaux-Fontenot added.
Acting with decency and reaching humanity could seem to be lofty targets for attorneys. But, if we assume that the regulation career nonetheless has the aptitude to reveal decency and prepared the ground towards a extra excellent society, why wouldn’t we?
It is my honest hope, as a lawyer and in addition because the mama of two younger attorneys, that we’ll embrace redemption and lead our career and our society again into the daylight, again to a time once we relished being the leaders of communities, setting unimpeachable examples of honorable behaviors, responding to the wants of others and behaving as admirable human beings. I hope we’ll return to behaving just like the attorneys Shakespeare was relying on.
That could be refreshing and in addition very sensible, in line with Lea Berman, co-author of the e-book Treating People Well. Also quoted within the print model of the Meacham article. Berman stated behaving with decency is “smart.” “Life is easier when you’re good to people, because they usually respond in kind,” she stated.
“Decency builds friendships and fruitful business connections, and makes life less stressful. Where there’s decency, there’s strength,” Berman added.
It makes numerous sense to me. Decency is energy and energy—simply not the damaging variety.
Susan Smith Blakely is a former associate, regulation profession counselor and writer of the Best Friends on the Bar e-book collection for feminine attorneys. Her most up-to-date e-book is What Millennial Lawyers Want: A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice.