Lawyers generally have a moral responsibility when representing clients and when choosing methods by which their clients’ interests can best be preserved. Beyond this, there is an overriding moral premise that lawyers, having benefited greatly from the gift of a legal education, and having been well equipped with useful skills, have an obligation to help those who are less fortunate in the society.
This is the community foundation of legal ethics which demands that a lawyer should be more than an officer of the court or guardian of the law, but one who also possesses the virtue of good character. A character through which he or she personally influences and affects people positively. The moment a lawyer who has integrity realizes how privileged he or she is to have been favourably placed in the society, he is impelled to do good. This is not to downplay any efforts each lawyer made to become who they are, but without the good fortune of finding oneself in a community where a lifetime gift of knowledge and discernment can be imparted, those efforts might not have yielded the expected results. Why then should we not give back to that community which made it possible for us to be who we are today?
There is no doubt that lawyers have had to go through a widespread opprobrium over the years as our profession and practice often make us seem like the enemy. The image of lawyers is a topic of great debate, and most often than not, lawyers are the subject of criticism, both just and unjust. Criticisms read about the legal profession would often quote the line from Shakespeare, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”. It is understandable that a negative image of lawyers may always exist, given the fact that lawyers will continue to play a part in an adversary system that produces winners and losers. The effect of this view, however, can be dissipated by our direct involvement in the community. This is not an advocacy for a complicated or over the top involvement. It is simply a call to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves, with the sincerest desire. Until our focus is directed to how we can capitalize on those possessed abilities, skills and motivations to generate good, we cannot expect great adulation from the public.
To generate good, therefore, lawyers need to get involved in the business of those who are disadvantaged. We have a responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. Lawyers who are already involved in pro bono legal services can testify that helping these group of persons can be one of the most rewarding experiences in the life of any lawyer. The reward ranging from the gratitude of the person who you have just gotten out of a difficult situation to you forming an established and remunerative relationship when the person’s story changes for the better.
For young lawyers who may not always get the opportunity to handle things on their own as a result of the complexity of the law, pro bono work is beneficial. Not only does it feel good and give a sense of satisfaction, it also gives experience and creates an avenue for exercising and developing skills and techniques that would later be put to use in matters of greater substance. As such, pro bono work confers an immediate benefit on young lawyers in both satisfaction and experience.
For more senior lawyers, there may come a time in their legal career when they start to feel unsatisfied, uninspired and bored. When they have tackled and conquered the legal world and amassed a huge fortune for themselves. The question ‘what then?’ begins to resonate in their minds. This is the time when they wonder if what they have been doing was really what they wanted to do. It takes a lot more to feel a sense of satisfaction and personal pride, than material enrichment. Marshall Jones in his memoir, ‘A Lawyer’s Mid-Career Memoir’ acknowledged that despite having been involved in literally hundreds of business transactions and lawsuits, most of which fortunately involved the payment of a legal fee, his most fond recollections involved matters where he earned no fee. His narration of how he argued Sarah Hoffman’s case, a brave child born with no arms and unusable lower limbs, before the Caddo Parish School Board, that federal law required the School Board to provide handicap access to physically disabled children is compelling as well as inspirational.
Success in the legal profession should be understood as less related to the financial rewards of the practice and more related to the established relationships and lives that feel the touch of humanity through us. If your life in the legal profession does not have a great purpose, it will not produce great joy. I implore everyone out there who can make a difference to not hesitate to make that choice today!