Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

The Heart and Soul of Our Professional Lives

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

The Heart and Soul of Our Professional Lives

Article excerpt

Integrity. If I were asked to describe a good lawyer, if I were asked to select the virtue most needed by lawyers, I would choose the word "integrity." If I were to question my own heart about being a good lawyer, I would ask, "Do I act with integrity?" Integrity is the key to being an ethical lawyer.

For 25 years I have taught professional responsibility at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. Professional responsibility is a difficult, challenging subject to learn and to teach. I enjoy the course immensely. I believe that my students have found the course an intense and challenging experience too. As we begin the course, I tell my students that the professional responsibility course has three major components:

* Legal rules -- primarily the Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct, but also codes of conduct proposed by other professional organizations. * Professional roles -- prosecutor, defense attorney, judge, adviser, advocate, intermediary. * Personal morality -- the values and beliefs that the individual holds independently of being a lawyer. My professional responsibility course focuses most heavily on the Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct. Students must learn these rules because they are binding law upon them when they accept a license to practice law. If they violate these rules as lawyers, they are subject to professional discipline by the Oklahoma Supreme Court acting through the Oklahoma Bar Association. The Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct (ORPC) state the behavioral rules by which lawyers must conduct their professional lives. The ORPC is like other codes of legal conduct such as the Oklahoma Penal Code. The ORPC sets the minimum standards that lawyers must meet or face discipline for failing to do so. The rules are technical, difficult and subject to differing interpretations. Students must exert significant effort if they are to learn these rules and be able to conduct themselves appropriately. The great effort needed to gain a basic familiarity with these rules explains why my course in professional responsibility focuses primarily on them. The second focus of my course is professional roles -- role ethics. Students very quickly learn that being an attorney imposes obligations upon them they did not have when they were lay persons. Indeed, they learn that their obligations as attorneys may be contradictory of their obligations as lay persons. For example, students learn that they must keep the confidences of clients even if the keeping of that confidence is the opposite of the conduct that we expect from a good lay person. Students must learn that when acting in a lawyer role they must do, at times, for others what they would never do for themselves. Moreover, students learn that lawyering has sub-roles -- for example, prosecutor, defense attorney, judge -- that create demands and expectations that are different depending upon the precise sub-role the lawyer occupies. …

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