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Why Professionalism Ma�ers

Try solving the following word problem: Doctors are to health, as ministers are to salvation, as lawyers are to (fill in the blank). Many members of the public have come to believe that the goal of lawyers is to make money and amass power for ourselves and our clients — and nothing else.


he question of who lawyers serve — and of our true purpose — reveals the importance of reclaiming the public trust and reasserting our sense of service to our clients and communities. Without consensus on why professionalism matters, we risk losing the public trust and dissipating our own sense of satisfaction with the work we do. Reclaiming these things is the reason professionalism matters. Therefore, we must reflect honestly on our experiences and do so at a deeper level than we have thus far to infuse our work culture with this message. RECLAIMING THE PUBLIC TRUST In Systems of Survival, Jane Jacobs argues there are two, and only two, moral codes governing behavior at work, although they share certain universal values. One code governs the work of guardians of our common good, such as public servants, elected leaders and judges. Another code governs commerce and commercial occupations. For example, guardians may

deceive for the common good; commercial occupations never should. Even this brief description reveals moral duality at the very core of our professional lives as lawyers. This duality also is addressed in the preface to the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which states that most ethically challenging problems in our work come from conflicts between our duties to individual clients and our duties to the courts and the public interest. In reality, lawyers are deeply irritating to many groups. Conservatives broadly paint our profession as a bastion of leftleaning trial lawyers. Liberals paint us as staunch defenders of corporate pillaging. Middle class and working people suspect us to be the servants and “wannabes” of privileged clients and a privileged class. Women and people of color often are upset with us for our slow progress in diversification. Worst of all, we are portrayed as creators of conflict, rather than facilitators of problem solving.

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Willamette Lawyer | Spring 2006 • Vol. VI, No. 1  

Raising the Bar - The Professionalism Program at WUCL: Since 1996, outstanding members of Oregon’s bench and bar have gathered at the Colleg...

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