Be the Best Lawyer You Can Be
By Joe Balkenbush
“Set out to do great things today, because what you do today can create a different tomorrow.” – Author unknown
We all want to be the best lawyer we can be. To do that, it is imperative we act ethically. Implicit in acting ethically is our knowledge of the Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct (ORPC) and Rules Governing Disciplinary Proceedings (RGDP). Unless you are intimately familiar with the ORPC and RGDP, you don’t know what to do or what not to do. We have all heard the saying, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” We can easily study the ORPC and RGDP and learn what we need to know. But knowledge is only a part of being an ethical lawyer.
The characteristics of honesty and integrity are essential to being an ethical lawyer. These same characteristics are inherent in being a good person as well. I would offer that it is not possible to be the best lawyer you can be without first being the best person you can be. The best man or woman, mother or father, brother or sister, aunt or uncle, etc. I would also offer that it’s not possible to be the best person you can be if you are not physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy.
Being a lawyer is not easy. There are so many responsibilities, so many tasks that must be coordinated to keep all of the “balls” in the air regarding the practice of law. And that doesn’t take into account our responsibilities at home, or what I believe is one of the most important parts of this whole equation, taking care of ourselves! We often hear we need to maintain a healthy work life/personal life balance. But who has time for that?!
We all must make time to ensure we are physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy. These characteristics are basic to our personal health. Often it is a seemingly insignificant occurrence that sends us to the place we don’t want to go. Before we know it, we can go over the edge and spiral into destructive behaviors. If you are stressed out or overwhelmed, if you are depressed, anxious, suffering from addiction, or are in need of help in any other way, the Oklahoma Bar Association provides you with a place to go for help. You are not alone!
The OBA Lawyers Helping Lawyers Assistance Program Committee (LHL) was created decades ago. There are literally hundreds of OBA members who volunteer their time to help other lawyers in need. As OBA ethics counsel, I am a member of the LHL Committee. It wasn’t until I attended my first committee meeting that I came to understand what LHL really does. It is not just for alcoholics or drug addicts, although LHL does provide services to people suffering from addiction. LHL also provides services to any OBA member who is experiencing mental, emotional, psychological and/or financial issues. Per Oklahoma law, all contact with LHL is confidential and privileged.1
As an OBA member benefit, the services provided are free. The contact number for LHL is 800-364-7886. Additional in-formation regarding LHL can be found at www.okbar.org/members/LawyersHelpingLawyers or by contacting the OBA Office of Ethics Counsel at 405-416-7055. Again, the services provided are free of charge and are by law confidential and privileged.
Late last year, in an attempt to become more educated regarding the necessity of members of the bar being physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy, three members of the LHL Committee (including myself) attended a program sponsored by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP). One of the presentations was titled “Positive Psychology for Lawyers.” All three of us agreed it was the best presentation we had ever heard regarding the connection between being the best lawyer we can be and our overall health. The speaker was Hallie Love, an attorney who has made it her personal mission to heighten awareness regarding physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health among lawyers. She will be presenting at the OBA Solo & Small Firm Conference in June 2016. If you would like more information regarding Ms. Love, check out her website at www.fitmindbodybrain.com.
We all want to be the best that we can be in both our business and personal lives. A friend recommended a book to me titled The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. As is evident from the title, if you make four simple agreements with yourself, you will be on the path to being the best you can be. The four agreements are:
1) Be impeccable with your word. We are all impeccable with our word to others, but we must also be impeccable with our word to ourselves.
2) Don’t take anything personally. Nothing anyone else does is about you. It is about them and where they are in their lives.
3) Don’t make assumptions. How often do we assume that we understand what someone said, only to find out that we have miscommunicated? When you’re unsure, ask a clarifying question. We’re lawyers, we know how to do that!
4) Always do your best. Keep in mind, our “best” may vary from day to day or minute to minute. But no matter what, if we always do our best, we will have no regrets.
The bottom line is we must take care of ourselves if we want to be the best we can be, whether in our business or personal lives. No one else is going to do it for you. You are the only one who can control what you do. So take responsibility for every aspect of your life! You are worth it, you matter!
Mr. Balkenbush is OBA Ethics Counsel. Have an ethics question? It’s a member benefit and all inquiries are confidential and priviledged. Contact Mr. Balkenbush at email@example.com or 405-416-7055; 800-522-8065.
Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- Feb. 13, 2016 -- Volume 87, No. 5.
1. (Title 5, Chapter 1, Appendix 3A, Rule 8.3)