Lawyer Day 2009

This is the day lawyers get to celebrate their profession and the many contributions they have made to our nation and our communities. We do not have to look very far to realize how many lawyers are in significant positions of influence in government, business, agencies and community development initiatives.

As one of those lawyers, I find myself both proud and occasionally shamed by some of our profession’s accomplishments. Without lawyers, our federal and state constitutions would not have the staying power and vitality to live flexibly and protect individual and collective rights for over 200 years. Corporations are led by lawyers. There are more lawyers in Congress and government than any other profession. Most US presidents have been lawyers. In fact, with only 5% of the world’s population, the US has at least 70% of the world’s lawyers.

On the other hand, the profession I entered over 30 years ago is a far different field than I first knew it to be. My first business card stated that I was a “Counselor at law”. Today, it says I am an “attorney”. What’s the difference? The legal business and the prevailing model of profitability and economic success is the reality practicing lawyers must rely on to “pay the bills” and put the kids through school.

As a result, the business of law and the culture of adversarial representation has transformed the practice of law in the eyes of many into a business that profits at the expense of those it purports to serve. Some complain the legal practice model of the “billable hour” is an unjustified and potentially unethical incentive for waste and inefficiency contrary to the client’s best interest. Some critics believe that conflict is improperly prolonged by a financial reward which is provided to the one who can prolong the fight the longest.

Law firm managers are finding the current economic climate inhospitable to the status quo and numerous experiments are being engineered to promote both the profession of law and the business of law with the client’s interest as the highest priority. “Alternative billing” and “fixed fees” are buzzwords that signal a possible tsunami in the legal services model.

However these innovative initiatives turn out, one fact remains: lawyers are critical to our society and great lawyers are recognized as problem solvers for their clients. That means that collaborative law, mediation, settlement counsel, negotiation and expedited litigation will all become valuable tools with which lawyers will become increasingly proficient in order to reclaim the public trust in the profession. Trusted advisers are those whose professional skills meet the client’s needs and for which the client finds value sufficient to gladly pay the bill.

The days of lawyers as trusted adviser will return, and soon. As lawyers learn the strategic skills of conflict management, their clients will both respect and trust them.

In the meantime, go hug a lawyer. We need love too.

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