Academic journal article Vanderbilt Law Review

The Pursuit of Happiness

Academic journal article Vanderbilt Law Review

The Pursuit of Happiness

Article excerpt

Ills that beset our profession are addressed by Professor Patrick Schiltz in the alert he sounds in his lead article, On Being a Happy, Healthy, and Ethical Member of an Unhappy, Unhealthy, and Unethical Profession,l and his earlier article, Legal Ethics in Decline: The Elite Law Firm, the Elite Law School, and the Moral Foundation of the Novice Attorney.2 His articles call for attention and introspection by law students and others in the profession.

The editors invited me to comment because of the transitions I have experienced since graduating from law school in 1960. I agreed, not realizing the extent to which the exercise would require me to face my ambivalence about law practice today.

My first law job, as a deputy attorney general of California, involved tax, administrative, and criminal cases, as well as assignments in government law and legislation. I thoroughly enjoyed it. In 1963, I became an associate in my current law firm, and, in 1969, partner. I have been with the firm for 36 years, including a year's leave of absence while I served as president of a public interest law firm, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Funds and a three-month sabbatical as a research fellow with RAND's Institute for Civil Justice. In three decades, our firm has grown to over 400 lawyers in multiple offices. It now hires many more lawyers each year than the entire firm had when I joined it.

Before becoming an associate, I talked with each partner about my belief that, together with client service, a lawyer should serve the profession and the public. Their responses encouraged me, and I joined the firm sharing their wish to build a collegial organization based on integrity and effective, intelligent service. I plunged into the work, billing initially at $15 per hour, and soon undertook an indigent criminal appeal that led to an appearance in the Supreme Court.4

Money was never a driving force. Being a lawyer, I felt, involved responsibilities and attendant satisfactions that transcended money. I feel quite lucky today, especially in light of Professor Schiltz's writings, that neither I nor many of my contemporaries viewed law practice as a way to get rich. We did expect to earn a reasonable income and perhaps someday a moderate degree of financial independence.

In this Comment, I will address the three main subjects of Professor Schiltz's article, starting briefly with ethics and health, then concentrating on the most difficult of all: happiness.

Professor Schiltz's ethical advice is sound. Although it is addressed "Dear Law Student," it should as well be addressed "Dear Managing Partner" or "Dear Lawyer." The essential point is simple: follow high standards and do not let your values be corroded under pressure.5 When ethical practice becomes a habit, it gets easy.6 Having a reputation for integrity will also help you and your clients. Having a reputation for practicing close to or over the line, for getting chalk on your shoes, will hurt you and ill-serve your clients.7

Another welcome benefit may also emerge from the simple maintenance of good ethics. Ethical practice reduces stress. Worrying about or concealing mistakes or dealing with uninformed clients or disgruntled team members, for example, seems far more stressful than following ethical guidelines to prevent such problems.

Of course, not all ethical issues are easy ones. The much-discussed current problems of imputation of knowledge or "positional conflicts," for example, are not necessarily resolved by an acute ethical sense. They involve legitimate competing interests and require analysis and judgment. In general, however, it is relatively easy to be an ethical lawyer as long as you never abdicate moral judgment to others.8

The single-minded pursuit of money finds its most pernicious expression in the excessive time that many lawyers work and bill. Billable time, when not managed responsibly and ethically, can have a terrible impact on sleep patterns, mental health, and one's ability to maintain perspective under pressure. …

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