Dan Harper is vice president, corporate counsel and secretary for Océ North America, Inc. He is also President Elect of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel.
He will begin writing for the blog once a week, sharing his opinions and thoughts from the perspective of an in-house counsel. Here is his first entry.
“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”
— Benjamin Franklin
Practicing law is an honorable calling. Never ever forget that. We are professionals duty bound to zealously represent our clients to the utmost of our ability. I think sometimes non-lawyers view lawyers as shifty characters because they don’t understand how we work. We make arguments that clients might not always understand. We present the facts in a light most reasonable to the position that is favorable to our clients. We posture. We cajole. We threaten. We tear into people in search of the truth. We often deal in unpleasantries. Not many people are fond of lawyers as a group, until they need one. We sometimes then get the wink and knowing nod from the client, to demonstrate that they “understand” how we operate, they’ll play along and assume that we will take care of the dirty stuff outside of their presence.
Many clients do not understand that it is our sworn ethical obligation to represent them zealously, honestly and ethically. I remember when I passed the bar some years back. Someone sent me an article likening a new lawyer’s integrity to a brand spanking new shiny suit of armor. The suit protects the lawyer’s untarnished reputation. Each time the lawyer compromises his or her integrity, the armor is nicked, rust appears corrupting the protective coating worn by the lawyer and eventually lays bare the vulnerable flesh beneath it. This is an apt analogy don’t you think?
How many times have you encountered a lawyer that rarely does what he says he will do, cuts corners on advice, pads the bill a tad or fudges “just a little” on document production? How do you view that lawyer when you next cross paths? On the other hand, how many times have you encountered an adversary who behaves as the ultimate professional, who can be trusted not to take pot shots at you or use underhanded tactics to gain an edge? At the end of the day, in which case does the client fare better?
Our jobs and our lives are complicated enough without having to negotiate the day (or the deal) worrying about whether or not the people with whom we are dealing can be trusted. Whether with our adversaries or with our own clients, we have a responsibility to ourselves, to our clients and to our profession to be honest, to say what we mean, to do what we say, honor the profession, respect the law, do what is right and win. How pleasant our professional lives are when we practice these principles and have them practiced on us.
So, polish up your suit of armor, strap it on for battle. Shine for your clients and your profession. Do the right thing. Most of all protect your integrity, for at the end what does any one of us have left but our good name?