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Ethics ‘Desiderata’

By Travis Pickens

In 1927, American writer Max Ehrmann wrote a prose poem titled “Desiderata.” It was thought that Ehrmann had written it for his children, and the poem was extremely popular in the ‘60s and ‘70s, especially among young adults. “Desiderata” is Latin for “desired things.” The following is an adaptation of the poem.

Go ethically amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in an office practice.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with opposing counsel and your client.
Make your argument quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant;
they too have practiced law, and are now retired.
Tolerate, but do not emulate, rude and vexatious lawyers;
they depress Lady Justice, but sometimes cannot be avoided.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter,
for always there will be lawyers more or less super than yourself.
Enjoy your successes and find lessons in your defeats.
Keep interested in the law, however routine your practice may be;
it is a real possession in a down economy.
Exercise caution in negotiations,
for last-minute bargaining is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many lawyers strive for high ideals,
and everywhere the law is full of professionalism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign sincerity.
Neither be cynical about civility,
for in the face of all anger and disenchantment,
it is as calming as a stream.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the clients of youth.
Nurture your investments to shield you in sudden misfortune,
but do not distress yourself with imagined missed deadlines.
Many fears are born of fatigue and insecurity.
Beyond enough billable hours to satisfy your partners,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the legal world,
no less than the jurists and the justices;
you have a license to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt your career is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with the law,
whatever your practice may be.
And whatever your losses and victories,
in the stressful confusion of this demanding life,
keep peace in your soul.
With all its dangers, duties and fights,
it is still a beautiful career.

Realize your good fortune. Resolve to be happy.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- Aug.6, 2011 -- Volume 83, No. 20.

Travis Pickens is the OBA Ethics Counsel. He can be reached at