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Professionalism and satisfaction

By Anthony P. Capozzi
President, State Bar of California

Anthony P. Capozzi, President, State Bar of California

I see the world through the eyes of a trial lawyer since this is the profession I chose and dearly love. I am fortunate to be in a profession that I enjoy and have fun doing the things trial lawyers normally do, i.e., try cases. Although, I must admit since becoming president of the State Bar in September 2003, I haven’t had a jury trial!

As a trial lawyer, one is in contact with judges and lawyers who are constantly under pressure during very intense situations. This is where the words “professionalism,” “civility” and “integrity” become so important and what we as lawyers should strive to uphold. The concept of professionalism embodies integrity and civility. The vast majority of lawyers are competent professionals. They are conscientious advocates for their clients’ interests, honest in their representations to courts and opposing counsel, civil to their colleagues and generous contributors with their time and expertise to their communities. Most lawyers conduct themselves according to the highest dictates of the legal profession. Nevertheless, the unprofessional and unethical conduct of a small, but highly visible, proportion of lawyers taints the image of the entire legal community and fuels the perception that lawyer professionalism has declined precipitously in recent decades. The implications of this behavior for the American justice system are extremely serious in that the ill behavior has contributed to decreased public confidence in legal and judicial institutions as well as heightened stress and decreased professional satisfaction for those lawyers who endeavor to practice in a professional manner.

The trial lawyer is to represent the best interest of his or her client. Clearly, there is competitiveness among trial lawyers but we don’t lose this competitiveness by seeking to uphold the concept of “professionalism.” Judges and juries see professionalism when it is displayed; they also see the unprofessionalism when it is displayed and tend to remember the latter rather than the former.

Professionalism is a much broader concept than legal ethics. Professionalism should include not only civility among members of the bench and bar, but also competence, integrity, respect for the rule of law, participation in pro bono and community service, and conduct by members of the legal profession that exceeds the minimum ethical requirements. Ethics rules are what a lawyer must obey. Principles of professionalism are what a lawyer should live by in conducting his or her affairs. Unlike disciplinary rules that can be implemented and enforced, professionalism is a personal characteristic.

It is difficult to define professionalism, but I know it when I see it! (Sound familiar?) One’s character is premised upon not necessarily on what one does in public but rather what one does when no one is around. Mark Twain is often quoted as saying, “Do the right thing; it will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” Sounds good, but what is “the right thing?” 

The right thing may change under certain circumstances. I’ve tried a lot of cases and have done a lot stupid things in and out of trial and looked awfully foolish at times, but I guess that’s the process of learning and gaining experience.

Being an attorney is being involved in a noble calling. If one becomes an attorney to make a lot of money, it is best to choose another career because that attorney will never be happy. A handful of attorneys are wealthy. We all make a decent living but good attorneys work hard, usually very hard, and enjoy doing so. 

If you enjoy this work, really enjoy it as I do, you will have a lifetime love affair with your chosen profession. It won’t seem like work and what better way than to be in a profession where you are having fun, helping other people, and making a decent living doing so.

If we keep the concepts of “professionalism,” “civility” and “integrity” in mind and practice those concepts, our profession will be held in much higher esteem and our work will truly be much more fun and satisfying.

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