A Lawyer’s Special Responsibility
Thurs. August 1, 2019 \ by Lisa Ann Thomas, Esq. \ Articles, News
Professionalism Committee // “A Lawyer’s Special Responsibility” by Lisa Ann Thomas, Esq. // The Briefs, August 2019 Vol. 87 No. 7. //
The Preamble to Chapter 4 of the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar begins: “A lawyer, as a member of the legal profession, is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system, and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.” As professionals, we often serve multiple masters – the client, a law firm, and our own personal and financial well-being. The client could be an individual who may be facing foreclosure of their home, an individual who has been charged with a crime, an individual who was injured in an accident, or perhaps a corporation that seeks to protect its trademark. A law firm bears the financial responsibility for paying overhead for staff and resources. As the revenue generators, attorneys must ensure they are meeting both the legal needs of the client as well as the financial interests of the firm. In addition, they owe a duty to themselves to balance work and financial stability with their families and home life.
In a recent CLE hosted by the Professionalism Committee and the Young Lawyers Section, Paul Lipton, Esq., of Rumberger Kirk & Caldwell, P.A., and Patricia Ann Savitz, Esq., of The Florida Bar, led a roundtable discussion about the professionalism challenges lawyers face in today’s legal system. In all dealings, our profession demands courtesy and candor. It is one of the tenets of the Oath of Admission to The Florida Bar. Unfortunately, however, most attorneys can share at least one tale of misconduct they have experienced. It was suggested during the seminar that not all misconduct is the result of malintent; rather, it may be the result of a misapplication or a misunderstanding of the law. Young lawyers should not automatically infer a lack of candor. Instead, they should discover a way to rise above the current threat to professionalism.
While our judicial system is inherently adversarial, we do not have to be discourteous to the individuals whose positions we oppose. The Honorable John Marshall Kest has often preached “take a lawyer to lunch.” This simple, yet powerful advice suggests the importance of humanizing your opposing counsel. Getting to know him or her may help you conduct yourself in a more professional manner than if you pass up an opportunity to make a personal connection.
The Rules Regulating the Florida Bar offer guidance on how to maintain professionalism and meet the burden of that “special responsibility for the quality of justice.”
Serving the Client
While not an exhaustive list, attorneys must offer competent legal advice to their clients, communicate with their clients, and protect their clients’ confidentiality.
First, the client-attorney relationship demands competence. R. Regulating Fla. Bar 4-1.1. “Competent representation requires legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.” While competence falls under a duty to the client, lawyers owe this duty to the court and their opposing counsel, as well. Whether it is your “reputation” or your “brand,” your name should be synonymous with preparedness.
Second, attorneys have a duty to communicate with their clients. R. Regulating Fla. Bar 4-1.4. Attorneys must promptly consult a client regarding the status of their matter such that the client may make an informed decision regarding the representation. It is the lawyer’s duty to develop the legal strategy, but the client must be informed of the decisions and actions the attorney intends to conduct on the client’s behalf.
Finally, lawyers must protect the confidential information of their clients. R. Regulating Fla. Bar 4-1.6. While the lawyer may reveal confidential information under certain circumstances, such as when the information revealed serves the interests of the client, the lawyer must not reveal other information related to the representation without the client’s consent.
Serving the Law Firm
As indicated above, the law firm bears the financial responsibility for overhead. In serving clients’ needs, attorneys simultaneously serve the financial needs of the law firm. In promoting clients’ interests, attorneys are also securing their own financial interest or stake in the firm when considering their career trajectory.
Serving Your Interests
Strive to bring the client’s interests, the law firm’s interests, and your interests in line by considering your motivation. Mr. Lipton suggested asking yourself, “What’s my ‘why?’” So, what is your why? Is it compassion for your client? Is it a resolve to serve the justice system? Is it financial? Is it the desire to provide comfort and support to your family? When considering your “why,” consider how to best serve the profession you have embraced. Be mindful of the many masters you serve, and strive to promote the professionalism this profession demands.
Lisa Ann Thomas, Esq., an associate with Cole, Scott & Kissane, P.A., is vice chair of the OCBA Professionalism Committee. She focuses her practice on workers’ compensation defense. She has been a member of the OCBA since 2016.