Ethics Counsel on www.OKbar.org

Lawyerly Blessings

By Travis Pickens

Activist and writer Anne Lamott says there are two prayers: “Help me! Help me! Help me!” and “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” We lawyers (religious or not) know that prayer, don’t we, when looking for a missing trial exhibit or trying to get that extension of time?

We should be giving thanks, instead, for things perhaps less immediately consequential and more profoundly significant. We should give thanks for the things that still make America the best place to live in the world and being a lawyer in America the best career in the world. We should give thanks for courts that work, where, almost all of the time, the judge or jury makes a logical decision that is supported by the evidence. We should pause to admire the operation of our judicial system. For all the rules and requirements imposed upon its participants, it is in fact largely self-regulated, guided by the simple inherent honesty and honor of its participants. Likewise, we should be thankful for a system that honors the truth above all and is designed to find it even when it may be hidden or distorted.

We should be thankful for the role that lawyers play in everyday life. An entire section of the Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct are devoted to “public service” (ORPC 6.1 through 6.5). An attorney sits on almost every governing board there is, business, charitable or religious, and usually without compensation.

People think we know all the laws. We don’t, of course, but we know most or how to find them, and a non-lawyer never will. We are professional problem-solvers, and most of us have outstanding communication and social skills. Can you imagine a world where non-lawyers populated every board? (“Help me! Help me! Help me!”). Lawyers make society work. To put it more bluntly, without lawyers, society does not work at all.

We should be grateful for the pleasures of our company. When I list my close friends, almost all are lawyers. I would bet yours are, too. We are the most interesting of people, at least to ourselves. We read and follow the news. Most of us are fluent in sports, religion, finance and politics. Some of us love the law and will sit in fascination discussing what may or may not be its proper interpretation, or better yet, what the opposing counsel or a judge may do with it.

Because we deal with the top decision makers and serve our communities, we know what goes on in town. Importantly, many of us tell great jokes. Almost all of us get the jokes. For a moment, think of your life without your attorney friends. Aren’t they perhaps the greatest blessing?

We should acknowledge and thank the women and men that work with us as part of our staffs. They are our captive audiences all the year long. I once read a book on some of the world’s great geniuses. Almost all of them were insufferable in some way. Some lawyers share that characteristic, but strangely, we don’t seem to mind. No other group enjoys stating their opinions more, about everyone and everything. What other group routinely challenges the thinking of each other like lawyers?

We are under almost constant stress, financial or time pressure and can be difficult managers. Our clients, with whom many of our staffs work, are often scared or angry. These are not the seeds of a harmonious working environment. Thankfully, our staffs are wired for the law just as we, else they would never last a week.

We should consider our clients a blessing. Whether they are rich or broke, honest or dishonest, an individual or a huge bureaucracy, they are our raison d’être, and we ought never to forget that. Without them, there would be no holiday bounty for you and me.

Finally, we should be grateful for the thought and spirit behind our Rules of Professional Conduct. No other profession devotes the care and attention to ethical behavior as lawyers. No other profession takes its ethics more seriously or strives for honorable behavior more earnestly. We lawyers prefer to bear the increasing burden of regulation as opposed to the increased risk of harm to our clients. Not every profession does that.

After you contemplate the greater blessings of creation and family this holiday season, remember and appreciate as well our judges, staffs, fellow lawyers and clients. Say Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! For them, for us, we should be grateful indeed.

About The Author

Travis Pickens serves as OBA Ethics Counsel. He is responsible for addressing ethics questions from OBA members, working with the Legal Ethics Advisory Panel, monitoring diversion program participants, teaching classes and writing articles. A former litigator in private practice, he has served as co-chair of the Work/Life Balance Committee and as vice-chair of the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Assistance Program Committee.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- Dec.12, 2009 -- Vol. 80 No. 33 

Travis Pickens is the OBA Ethics Counsel. He can be reached at ethics@okbar.org.