Old School v. New School v. Law School
Recently I spoke at the DCBA "Basic Skills" course; a multi-track program for newly minted Lawyers covering substantive and practical topics. While programs like this have been around since I got out of law school, in the era of MCLE they are no longer a matter of diligence but necessity. And to receive MCLE credit, the program had to contain an ethics component – that’s where I came in.
Imagine if you will the high energy and beaming faces of the young Attorneys gathered in the basement of the Bar Center on that frozen Saturday to pore over real estate closings, probate, adoptions, and other areas of substantive law, as well as an ethics program. And by "ethics," it turns out that the organizers meant horror stories about Lawyers losing their license or their lunch because they forgot to diary a hearing or arrived in court 15 minutes late to find a matter dismissed.
As promised, the last 3 topics of the afternoon were professional conduct, malpractice, and practice management. Practice management? This seemed like an odd choice to me. As chair of the DCBA committee on that subject I have come to think of law practice management or LPM in glowing terms – not as a diatribe on the details of trust accounting or double calendars as a failsafe for hearings, but as the door to cutting edge developments in electronic research, e-filing, e-discovery, instant communication, and a host of labor and brain-cell saving activities that could one day set practitioners free from the drudgery of an often thankless job. But as I found out that day, the profession still views practice management as the stepchild to "real" law. And to bring the point home, the speakers who went on before and after me focused on graphic warnings about how the ARDC would swoop down, S.W.A.T. style, on anyone who failed to keep organized files or comport in all respects with the Rules of Professional Conduct.
And then it was my turn to tell the audience how to stave off the parade of horribles that had just been described to them. As I took the podium that afternoon I paused and realized that I was part of a "Scared Straight" program for Lawyers. It was not necessarily about doing things faster, or more efficiently, or even about doing them right. It was about not screwing up, being hopelessly dishonest, or being thoughtless with other peoples’ trust. It was about scaring the pants off yet another generation of Lawyers instead of showing them the way to a better, more sophisticated, less venal way to practice.
So what did I talk about that day? Did I trot out scare-tactics or genuflect in the direction of the Rules of Professional Conduct? Or did I tell my audience how they could chart their own courses using good judgment and intellectual clarity instead of fear and apprehension? How the old school makes us feel guilty for making a living, while the new school elevates and rewards good business and good professional sense (which are not, after all, mutually exclusive)?
What did I say to my audience? What do you think I said? Sound off at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts. As always, thank you for your support.
This month we have a separate section in our publication. It is entitled "The Grief". For those of you who take themselves too seriously, it is meant to be in jest. "Lighten up, Francis." I would like to thank non-members Rob Potter and Melissa Piwowar for the invaluable assistance they provided some members of the publication board who may be "humor challenged." I hope you enjoy it.
Mazyar M. Hedayat, Editor