Lawyers and Character

October 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

Somebody once said that character is how you behave when you think no one is watching. It’s the way you really are, without pretense or appearances. It can reflect nobility or brutishness, generosity or avidity, honesty or mendacity.

There are lots of ways to look at and describe character. The Inside Counsel Blog postulates Five Traits of Highly Effective Trial Lawyers: Credibility; civility; confidence; curiosity; and competitive spirit. I certainly can’t argue with those five C’s. If you will read the article, I think you will agree. But those are measures of what makes an effective trial advocate.

I am talking about the character traits that a lawyer should have. Here are my own Most Desirable Character Traits for Lawyers, all of which overlap and contribute to each other:

  • Honesty. The lawyer is scrupulously honest and candid in all her dealings with the client, the court, and opposing counsel. There is never a question of the lawyer’s integrity.
  • Professionalism. The lawyer is civil with opposing counsel, and candid and respectful of the court. All of the lawyer’s work product reflects quality and attention to detail.
  • Diligence. Filings and appearances are timely. The lawyer does what needs to be done when it needs to be done. The lawyer zealously represents the client’s interests within the bounds of ethics and the law.
  • Trustworthiness. The lawyer’s word is his bond. The court and opposing counsel can rely on the lawyer’s promises, case citations, representations in pleadings, and other statements. The trustworthy lawyer is never a liar.
  • Competence. Undertakes responsibility for cases within the scope of his or her abilities, and refers out or associates competent counsel in cases beyond his or her skill level. Studies the law and keeps current with hand-downs. Stretches his abilities via study, and seeks advice from more experienced counsel.
  • Skepticism. Questions behind the client’s representations as to the facts. Never lets the client dictate litigation strategy or tactics. Critically examines statutes and case law for new approaches. Rejects “conventional wisdom.” Does her own thinking.
  • Objectivity. Maintains enough distance from the client’s emotions in the case so that he is able to offer dispassionate advice uncolored by personal involvement.
  • Proportionate Sense of Self-Worth. The lawyer is neither an egotist nor a doormat. Maintains a realistic sense of his or her abilities, strong and weak points, and knowledge of self.
  • Devotion to the law. The lawyer is proud of the profession, and strives to uphold its highest ideals. Promotes respect for the law and the legal profession in his or her dealings with clients, judges and other lawyers, and in the community.

I am sure you can come up with some more.

My all-time favorite list of character traits, that I return to again and again, is in Galatians 5:22-23: Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

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