David Sherlin, Holt Sherlin, LLP
“Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.” --Charles Lamb
The above quote is the epigraph to Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s simple, poignant, and in my opinion, replete with the notion that we as lawyers start our careers much like children start their lives: full of hope and free of cynicism. I consider myself one of these lawyers. I started practicing law in 2005 with the idealistic notion that all attorneys would play fair, be honest, and treat one another with respect. Having practiced law for the past fourteen years, and I can now say with experience (some may call it age), my idealistic belief that all attorneys would adhere to a sense of fairness and honesty was perhaps too lofty an expectation.
Anyone who has practiced law for a significant portion of time has seen both the best and worst from our profession. The best are attorneys like Bonnie Weyher, Ed Gaskins, Hart Miles, Victor Boone, Wade Smith, and Dan McLamb. Common traits that run throughout these attorneys are work ethic, honesty, professionalism, and a sense of community. Even when on the opposite side of a case from one of them, I know that I am working with the very best and, most importantly, with someone that I can trust. As a young attorney, these traits are the ones that I hoped every attorney would have.
As with anything else, hope doesn’t make it so, and I have witnessed attorneys acting well outside the Rules of Professional Conduct – and decency for that matter. Some of the most egregious instances of unprofessional conduct that I have witnessed relate to Rule 4.1, Truthfulness in Statements to Others. This is one of those rules that was clearly written by lawyers, for lawyers. It reads, “In the course of representing a client a lawyer shall not knowingly make a false statement of material fact or law to a third person.” If I were drafting Rule 4.1, I’d write it just like I tell my children: “Don’t lie.” Simple, to the point, and easy to follow (hopefully!).
My initial idealistic notion that all attorneys adhere to the same sense of fairness and honesty has taken a hit over the past fourteen years. Fortunately, however, my experiences have led me to a new conviction that is just as strong. Lawyers may be imperfect, but our legal community is full of good, honorable, honest lawyers whom, through their adherence to the highest of ethical standards, do right by their clients, and just as importantly, to our profession.