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Bar News - June 20, 2008

Professionalism: The Seventh Rule


Richard E. Samdperil

Hey you! Yeah, you, the lawyer skimming the pages of the Bar News. C’mon, I know you’re not really reading the articles. So, before you skip to the classifieds at the back, maybe you can spare me a minute.

It’s June. Half the year is over. Time to reflect on the year so far. You know, as a lawyer. How can I bring in more clients? How will that big case turn out? Will those jackasses finally make me partner? Should we make that pain-in-the-neck associate a partner? Am I on track to be more successful this year than last year?

I have the answer. I discovered it in the back of my filing cabinet. A slightly tattered, imperfectly folded, copy of the New Hampshire Lawyer Professionalism Creed.

Hold on. Give me a chance.

If you look at the Creed, look way down; near the bottom, you’ll find, "SEVENTH, a New Hampshire lawyer has a social conscience and is dedicated to serve the public and society. A New Hampshire lawyer is willing to take up an unpopular cause or to engage in pro bono work, even when it is unpleasant or costly."

Unpopular? Every time I get together with my uncle, a doctor, I have to listen to the latest lawyer jokes. Okay, they aren’t the "latest" lawyer jokes. They’re actually those same lawyer jokes he’s been telling me for the past 15 years. I don’t even do medical malpractice. As a whole, aren’t we as lawyers already an unpopular lot? Do I really need to take on a uniquely unpopular cause to assure my place among the reviled?

Unpleasant? Which one of us has a practice that isn’t unpleasant? Criminal law: unpleasant. Insurance defense: unpleasant. Personal injury: unpleasant. Divorce: unpleasant would be a vacation. Show me a lawyer who describes his/her practice as "pleasant" and I’ll show you someone on a golf course.

Costly? Let’s not even go there.

So how can taking up an unpopular cause or doing pro bono work be the answer to being more successful? It’s the answer because it makes us better lawyers. Really. It reminds us that we are not your average suit. Lawyers serve the public in a unique way. We are insiders. We know how things work. Sometimes, other lawyers even return our calls. And helping someone who can’t afford to pay us, or being the advocate of the seemingly undeserving or ignored is part of our professional duty.

What we do every day – the ordinary unpleasantness – is not what social conscience and public service is about. And sure, sitting on a board or making a financial contribution to an organization that serves persons with limited means is important too. But our professional commitment should motivate us to occasionally do more, to sometimes accept the ugly cases or the undesirable client. And to do so when there is no foreseeable private gain.

"But how will it make me a better lawyer?" you ask. It will make you a better lawyer because it will make you proud to be a lawyer. It will make all of us proud that you are a lawyer. It will make the public understand that we are not self-interested, but public-minded – even if they don’t quite understand why a particular case or legal issue is important.

It may even make my uncle believe we are good, decent human beings – but don’t count on it.

Richard E. Samdperil is an attorney with Samdperil & Welsh PLLC in Exeter, New Hampshire. He has been a Bar member since 1995.

The New Hampshire Lawyer Professionalism Creed

Adopted by the New Hampshire Board of Governors on April 4, 2001
New Hampshire lawyers are the custodians of the "rule of law," responsible for the maintenance and improvement of just and efficient legal institutions. In addition to the obligation to adhere to the Rules of Professional Conduct, they must be honest, competent, civil and ethical in providing prompt, cost-effective and independent counsel to their clients. As such, New Hampshire lawyers aspire to the following:

FIRST, a New Hampshire lawyer strives to improve the profession and promote the democratic rule of law. A New Hampshire lawyer:

• embraces the profession as a higher calling;
• promotes the integrity of the legal profession;
• is aware of his or her responsibility to the system of justice as an officer of the court and is an integral part of the administration of justice;
• works to improve and strengthen the profession through mentoring, teaching and other public service activities.

SECOND, a New Hampshire lawyer is competent in the area of his or her own practice, but is also sufficiently knowledgeable in other areas of practice to be able to assist clients in obtaining appropriate representation in those areas. A New Hampshire lawyer:

• is learned in the law;
• possesses the appropriate amount of knowledge, skill and expertise to competently represent the client;
• offers the client thoughtful, lawful and practical advice;
• is committed to providing cost-effective, efficient legal services;

• is willing to refer the client to other competent counsel, when necessary.

THIRD, a New Hampshire lawyer is civil. Civility and self-discipline prevent lawsuits from turning into combat and keep organized society from falling apart. A New Hampshire lawyer:

• behaves in a courteous, decent and disciplined manner, and counsels clients to do likewise;
• displays respect for clients, judges, court staff, opposing counsel and all participants in the process;
• behaves with humility rather than arrogance;
• understands differing viewpoints and has empathy for others.

FOURTH, a New Hampshire lawyer is reliable, responsible and committed. A New Hampshire lawyer:

• cares deeply about both the interests of the client and of the legal system;
• keeps promises, because one’s word is one’s bond;
• tempers zealousness on behalf of the client with his or her role and responsibility as an officer of the court.

FIFTH, a New Hampshire lawyer is honest and forthright. Lack of candor impedes justice and degrades the profession, and lying has no place in the practice of law. A New Hampshire lawyer:

• displays candor with the client, the court and all others;
• does not mislead the client, the court or others.

SIXTH, a New Hampshire lawyer exercises independent critical judgment, and is willing to accept responsibility for his or her actions, decisions or counsel. A New Hampshire lawyer:

• exercises common sense and independent judgment;
• is not a mere technician or hired gun, but a wise counselor;
• endeavors to solve problems rather than merely winning;
• knows when it is time to take a stand and when it is time to compromise;
• considers the broader societal implications of his or her actions;
• is willing to challenge the client’s wishes or motives when such wishes or motives are not in the best interest of the client or are detrimental to the administration of justice.

SEVENTH, a New Hampshire lawyer has a social conscience and is dedicated to serve the public and society. A New Hampshire lawyer is willing to take up an unpopular cause or to engage in pro bono work, even when it is unpleasant or costly. A New Hampshire lawyer:

• serves his or her community as a volunteer leader;
• sees the practice of law first and foremost as a profession, and secondarily as a business;
• recognizes and resists business pressures which interfere with sound professional judgment;
• provides or supports legal services to those in need, at no cost or reduced cost.

If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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