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IBA: A little professional humor

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As part of its ongoing efforts to promote professionalism, the Professionalism Committee of the Indianapolis Bar Association has borrowed from the format of a popular comedian to portray everyday scenarios that may illustrate situations in which lawyers may fall short of each of the committee’s five Standards of Professionalism. We hope that this presentation will remind IndyBar members of the standards, perhaps provide a little entertainment, and – to the extent any of the examples resonate with your own experience – help to maintain and promote our commitment to these standards.

Stated another way, you might be acting unprofessionally if …

I Commitment

We are committed to practicing law in a manner that maintains and fosters public confidence in our profession, faithfully serves our clients, and fulfills our responsibilities to the legal system.

Our commitment to fostering public confidence in our profession and fulfilling our responsibilities to the legal system requires us to avoid denigrating other lawyers, judges and the courts – the very people and institutions that comprise our profession and our legal system. Stated another way, you might be acting unprofessionally if, upon receiving an unfavorable ruling, you say things such as:

“The judge obviously did not read our papers or listen to us.”

“The judge took the easy way out.”

“The judge did not understand the issues.”

“The opposing counsel should not have … (however you may complete this sentence, the simple act of criticizing other lawyers often undermines public confidence in our profession).

II Character

We will strictly adhere to the spirit as well as the letter of the Rules of Professional Conduct and will at all times be guided by a fundamental sense of honor, integrity and fair play.

Our commitment to adhering to the Rules of Professional Conduct requires us to be familiar with those rules, and our commitment to a fundamental sense of honor, integrity and fair play requires us to view opposing counsel with respect. Stated another way, you might be acting unprofessionally if you:

Often find yourself having “no idea” of what the Rules of Professional Conduct actually provide with respect to a situation confronting you.

View the Rules of Professional Conduct as a hindrance to be grudgingly observed, rather than enthusiastically promoted.

III Competence

We will conduct ourselves to assure the just, economical and efficient resolution of every matter entrusted to us consistent with thoroughness and professional preparation.

Our commitment to the economical and efficient resolution of matters requires us to refrain from unnecessarily driving up litigation expenses or unnecessarily delaying resolution of disputes. Stated another way, you might be acting unprofessionally if you make statements such as:

“I don’t expect to win this motion but we should file it just to make them spend some money on the litigation.”

“I don’t expect to win this motion but we need to show the client that we are doing something.”

“I didn’t bother to review the file before the hearing because …”

IV Courtesy

We will at all times act with dignity, civility, decency and courtesy in all professional activities and refrain from rude, disruptive, obstructive and abusive behavior.

Our commitment to civility requires that we display no less courtesy in our professional lives than we do to friends, family or even complete strangers in our personal lives. Stated another way, you might be acting unprofessionally if:

You speak to opposing counsel in a manner that you would not use to speak to someone standing in front of you at a check-out line of a grocery store.

You describe an inability to reach agreement on an issue as a some type of character flaw on the part of opposing counsel, rather than “a disputed issue for the court to decide.”

You cannot recall the last time you apologized to opposing counsel, co-counsel, a client, or a court for anything at all.

You fail to alert opposing counsel before sending a harsh letter of the underlying problem that necessitates the harsh tone.

You tell the receptionist to “put it in voice mail” more often than you say “put it through.”

There are lawyers in town that avoid you.

There are lawyers in town that you avoid.

There are either (i) lawyers in town that avoid you; or (ii) lawyers in town that you avoid but (iii) you have not reached out to them to repair the relationship.

V Community Involvement

We recognize that the practice is a learned profession to be conducted with dignity, integrity and honor dedicated to the service of clients and public good.

Stated another way, you might be acting unprofessionally if:

All your pro bono cases turned out that way unexpectedly.

You believe that community involvement is a really good idea but leave it to someone else to handle.•

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  1. Bill Satterlee is, indeed, a true jazz aficionado. Part of my legal career was spent as an associate attorney with Hoeppner, Wagner & Evans in Valparaiso. Bill was instrumental (no pun intended) in introducing me to jazz music, thereby fostering my love for this genre. We would, occasionally, travel to Chicago on weekends and sit in on some outstanding jazz sessions at Andy's on Hubbard Street. Had it not been for Bill's love of jazz music, I never would have had the good fortune of hearing it played live at Andy's. And, most likely, I might never have begun listening to it as much as I do. Thanks, Bill.

  2. The child support award is many times what the custodial parent earns, and exceeds the actual costs of providing for the children's needs. My fiance and I have agreed that if we divorce, that the children will be provided for using a shared checking account like this one(http://www.mediate.com/articles/if_they_can_do_parenting_plans.cfm) to avoid the hidden alimony in Indiana's child support guidelines.

  3. Fiat justitia ruat caelum is a Latin legal phrase, meaning "Let justice be done though the heavens fall." The maxim signifies the belief that justice must be realized regardless of consequences.

  4. Indiana up holds this behavior. the state police know they got it made.

  5. Additional Points: -Civility in the profession: Treating others with respect will not only move others to respect you, it will show a shared respect for the legal system we are all sworn to protect. When attorneys engage in unnecessary personal attacks, they lose the respect and favor of judges, jurors, the person being attacked, and others witnessing or reading the communication. It's not always easy to put anger aside, but if you don't, you will lose respect, credibility, cases, clients & jobs or job opportunities. -Read Rule 22 of the Admission & Discipline Rules. Capture that spirit and apply those principles in your daily work. -Strive to represent clients in a manner that communicates the importance you place on the legal matter you're privileged to handle for them. -There are good lawyers of all ages, but no one is perfect. Older lawyers can learn valuable skills from younger lawyers who tend to be more adept with new technologies that can improve work quality and speed. Older lawyers have already tackled more legal issues and worked through more of the problems encountered when representing clients on various types of legal matters. If there's mutual respect and a willingness to learn from each other, it will help make both attorneys better lawyers. -Erosion of the public trust in lawyers wears down public confidence in the rule of law. Always keep your duty to the profession in mind. -You can learn so much by asking questions & actively listening to instructions and advice from more experienced attorneys, regardless of how many years or decades you've each practiced law. Don't miss out on that chance.

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