Sunday, May 11, 2008

Critique of the Definition -- Part I

My first impression of the first paragraph is that it sounds elitist and is likely to put people off.

And disingenuous . . . If I were to ask a random group of people which profession consists of "a group pursuing a learned art as a higher calling in a spirit that it is performing a public service, a service that is indispensable in a democratic nation . . . ." I can assure you not one will say lawyer. sad, but oh so true.

The public servant concept can be looked at more broadly though; in that way the definition is more palatable to me. It is true that as lawyers we are performing a public service whether we assist an indigent inmate in litigating against the city for improvements during his incarceration, and equally a public service when we assist a billionaire find a loop hole in the contract in which she would rather not continue complying with -- in both examples we are assisting members of society with their everyday goals in a way they couldn't do by themselves, without our assistance and specialization.

(However, thinking of that last example I recall the documentary "Corporation" in which the film places the entire blame of overblown, over powerful corporations on lawyers who set out to use those organizations to enrich themselves and their practices. I thought the historical representation was simplistic, naive, narrow, overstated yes, but we shouldn't err on own by overstating our profession as a "learned art").

I wasn't around for the meeting when the definition was finalized and the snippets were taken from various sources. Was lawyering once upon a time referred to as a "learned art"? Who said that?

Finally, I can't really find fault with the last line: as attorneys we owe "an obligation of dignity, integrity, self-respect and respect for others" but in my view we owe those to each other as human beings, not just as attorneys.

Second paragraph next time . . .


Anonymous said...

At the outset, I must say that you deserve credit for tackling a 266-worded definition on professionalism! Talk about a mouthful!

However, I do take issue with your position that the first half of the definition is disingenuous. I do think a random group of people would select lawyers as a profession of "a group pursuing a learned art as a higher calling in a spirit that it is performing a public service...." As the rest of the definition states, this group of individuals are "indispensable" to a democracy. While there are those who may view lawyers as sinners, lawyers ensure that society function and progress each day. Although you mock the corporation and the billionaire succeeding because of a loophole, this is all made possible because there are rules of law, that gets enforced because of lawyers.

Perhaps your random group of people might select doctors or police offices or priests. However, even those professions cannot function without lawyers. Doctors need lawyers not only to forestall malpractice suits, but also to establish there own practices, work with drug companies, negotiate employment with hospitals; police officers, work with attorneys to enforce the law and to also help them when they cross the line while on duty; priests -- well, lately they have had a great need for lawyers.

Thus, in my view lawyers are a group of learned individuals because we are the only ones who can do what we do.

Anonymous said...

Roscoe Pound said it

Anonymous said...

For those who are not in the know, Roscoe Pound was a prominent legal scholar who made a distinction between the practice of law as a profession and the practice of law as a business.

He stated that the "primary purpose" of the legal profession was "pursuing a LEARNED ART as a common calling in the spirit of public service." "[W]here as in a business or trade it is the entire purpose." Roscoe Pound, The Lawyer From Antiquity to Modern Times 5 (1953).