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A blog by members of the Wake County Bar Association/Tenth Judicial District Bar's Professionalism Committee members.

 

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"Judge Not...": How the Legal Profession Continues to Fail at Inclusion

Posted By Administration, 18 hours ago

Evin L. Grant, Esq., Campbell Law School

“Our criminal justice system needs reforming and the perfect person for the job may have dreadlocks. Meanwhile, you, an attorney, have encouraged them to cut their pride and dignity off so they can ‘fit in.’” @jastalkslaw (Attorney Jas, Twitter)

I read this tweet and it really bothered me. Not because of what it said, but because of what it signifies. What did it mean to “fit in”?  Recently the legal profession has put a lot of emphasis on the buzzword “inclusion.” We simultaneously embrace it while also trying to avoid the realities of what it implies, there was a point in time when the profession was exclusive.

I shared the tweet with a friend, “Jane Doe” and we discussed the origin of this article. We talked a bit about our thoughts and feelings as it related to the concept of “fitting in.”  We opined on how "fitting in" forces us to imitate the external image of a “lawyer.” In the years she's been a valued asset to her firm, she's believes "if [she] had shown up to [her] job interview without makeup, [her] hair not artificially [improved], [her] tan not artificially enhanced, regardless of the fact [she] had on a [tailored] suit and a good resume, [she] would not have gotten the job.”

Have we become a profession of profile? Do we continue to equate appearance with ability? A character and fitness couture? As Jane Doe stated, “the legal profession in general 100% bases your ability [to] work on how you appear.” This sat with me. What defines my ability to other lawyers? Is it my three-piece suits or my earrings and tattoos? What about me, makes me "fit in"? Or is it that I don't fit in that determines their impression?

Even with our dedication to inclusivity, I ask, are we still being exclusive? I submit to you that we still are. In 2017, the National Association of Law Placement reported, of 112,090 lawyers, 35% are women, 15% are minorities, and 8% are minority women. (2017 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms, https://www.nalp.org/uploads/2017NALPReportonDiversityinUSLawFirms.pdf, 2017). We aspire to increase our inclusivity, but it appears we only accept people who already “fit in” to the profession.

In law school admissions, we visit the schools where students’ parents are already doctors and lawyers, rather than visiting the schools that could benefit from exposure to the profession. In hiring, we exclude highly capable candidates over technical requirements that have no bearing on their ability to perform. When promoting internally, we exclude the most valuable associate because they don't participate in Thursday afternoon golf.

How do we fix this? First, as a profession, let's stop putting the image of a lawyer in a box. I remember my time as a magistrate judge and the first thing most people would say, "you're not what I thought you'd look like." My response, "what are judges supposed to look like?"

Google the word "lawyer" and view the images. What do you see? As lawyers, this is the image we've created of ourselves. If we want to be exposed to a different image we have to search "woman lawyer," "Muslim lawyer," "Black lawyer," Hispanic lawyer."

Secondly, let’s stop putting our diverse employees on the “Diversity and Inclusion Committee,” but leaving them off of the “Executive Committee” or “Hiring Committee.”  We profess inclusion but fail to include diverse employees on decision-making committees within our organization because they don't "fit in" with the culture of the firm. We have to accept that not all lawyers will look or behave as we do.

Finally, we have to stop being judgmental. Because a woman chooses to wear pants instead of a skirt does not make her inadequate. A lawyer’s decision to wear bright-color ties or patterned shirts does not have any bearing on his or her ability to perform. The name "Daquan," "Muhammud," or "Sue" is not representative of one's ability to add value to an organization.

The legal profession is one of tradition, prestige and integrity. However, these words are not synonymous with inflexibility, prejudice and exclusion. We cannot continue to judge people because they do not look like our ideal image of a "capable lawyer" while as a profession we profess greater inclusivity.

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Professionalism: The Get and Give of Volunteering

Posted By Administration, Thursday, October 18, 2018

Meredith Cross, Gailor | Hunt | Jenkins | Davis |Taylor | Gibbs

Over the last week I have attended several swearing-in ceremonies, an event that occurs semi-annually and until now I had never attended. At these ceremonies, I got to experience firsthand the bright, shining faces of the new admittees, filled with excitement and optimism after being sworn-in to the practice of law. 

On October 4th, I had the opportunity to hear Justice Paul Newby speak at the Wake County Bar Association’s swearing-in ceremony. In his speech to the new admittees about professionalism and the practice of law, the one piece of information that stood out to me most was his discussion of the necessity of providing pro bono services as a lawyer.

Pursuant to the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct, “Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay.” Although it is recognized that the amount of hours a lawyer provides pro bono services may vary from year to year, “a lawyer should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono public services per year.” 

During his speech, Justice Newby referenced an email that some in the audience may have already received earlier in the week from the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center, detailing the Supreme Court of North Carolina’s recent approval of a temporary amendment to the rules of the North Carolina State Bar.  This temporary amendment permits lawyers barred in other states to provide legal services in North Carolina, under the supervision of Legal Aid, to those affected by Hurricane Florence.

What I did not know, and I imagine many others in the audience were unaware of, is that the Supreme Court of North Carolina approved this temporary amendment due to the lack of North Carolina lawyers responding to the call for help to provide pro bono services as a part of the hurricane relief.  

My first thoughts were of shock and embarrassment that the Supreme Court of North Carolina had to take the drastic action of temporarily amending the rules to the North Carolina State Bar to allow lawyers from other states to answer the call to aid because our own lawyers have not responded. These thoughts were quickly followed by the realization that it is our duty as lawyers to instill a sense of public service in these new admittees and others. 

Winston Churchill said it best: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”  As lawyers, we need to take time to remember this and ensure that those that who come after us understand its significance. 

To volunteer, please visit:

https://ncprobono.org/disaster/

https://ncprobono.org/volunteer/find-pro-bono-opportunities/

 

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A Call to Action to Assist Hurricane Victims

Posted By Administration, Monday, September 24, 2018

David Sherlin, Holt Sherlin | President-elect, Wake County Bar Association

Since Hurricane Florence unleashed her wrath on North Carolina I have experienced extreme sadness for our neighbors to the east. Tragically, at least 26 people in North Carolina have died as a result of the hurricane. In addition, countless homes and businesses have been severely damaged or completely destroyed. 

In the coming months, North Carolinians hardest hit by the hurricane will be putting their lives back together. During this process they will undoubtedly face myriad legal issues. Finding attorneys to help them navigate these uncertain times should not be one of their challenges.

The preamble to the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct addresses a lawyer’s responsibilities to the public. Specifically, it holds “[t]he legal profession is a group of people united in a learned calling for the public good. At their best, lawyers assure the availability of legal services to all, regardless of ability to pay, and as leaders of their communities, state and nation, lawyers use their education and experience to improve society.”

There is no better time than now for us, as lawyers, to fulfill the charge set forth to us in the RPC by offering free legal services to those impacted by the hurricane.  The North Carolina Bar Association Young Lawyer’s Division and Legal Aid of North Carolina have teamed up to help facilitate legal assistance efforts through the North Carolina Disaster Legal Services Program.  The online sign-up takes no more than two minutes to complete.  And although many of our practice areas will not be listed on the online sign-up, the NCBA has provided a wealth of resources to assist us when speaking with hurricane victims.  

In short, there is no better time than now to sign-up to provide pro bono legal advice to victims of Hurricane Florence.  The Rules of Professional call us to do so.  But most importantly, it’s just the right thing to do. 

To volunteer, please visit:
https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfZIBaV8gSixxm_xdvDWqxKKCbVVC85p939XMZOc0O3aqvQsQ/viewform

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Mentoring Prosecutors

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Judge Ned Mangum, Wake County District Court

Rule 3.8 of the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct is titled “Special Responsibilities of a Prosecutor.” The comment section of the rule provides the best description of the role of the District Attorney: “a prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate. The prosecutor’s duty is to seek justice, not merely to convict.” It goes on to note “the prosecutor represents the sovereign and therefore should use restraint in the discretionary exercise of government power.”

It is common for this power to be delegated to a young lawyer hired as an Assistant District Attorney in their mid-20s with little professional experience. Considering the comments above, ask yourself this question- is there a position in which a person has been entrusted with a more powerful job than that of an Assistant District Attorney? You might answer that a judge has a more powerful role, yet it can be reasonably argued that the power to prosecute is more powerful than the judge’s ability to decide and sentence.

It is important to read section 5.1 of the rules in conjunction with the rule mentioned above. It states “a lawyer who individually or together with other lawyers possesses comparable managerial authority, shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the firm or the organization has in effect measures giving reasonable assurance that all lawyers  .  . . conform to the Rules of Professional Conduct.”

Simply stated, the District Attorney’s Office must make sure the young assistants follow the rules.

For the last 25 years in Wake County, spanning the terms of three different DA’s, much of that responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of First Assistant District Attorney Howard Cummings.

If you have ever been an ADA or an intern in the Wake County District Attorney’s Office, it is likely you have been in Howard’s office talking about how to proceed with a case. In his own way, he works through the issues with a young lawyer, helping that ADA find a just result. Howard also started a formal mentoring program in the District Attorney’s Office almost twenty years ago before these programs were on our collective conscience. He accomplished this formal mentoring while also handling many of the most complicated and well known investigations and trials this county has seen. Recently, this commitment to service was recognized by the North Carolina Bar Association. He was named the 2017 recipient of the Peter S. Gilchrist award for the Most Outstanding Prosecutor in the State.

Our profession is better because of him.

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Professionalism: Modeled Behavior

Posted By Administration, Friday, August 24, 2018

Edd Roberts, Roberts Law Office, PA

My six and four-year-old constantly make me aware that the things I do and the words I say in their presence are absorbed by them. These young boys of mine are being shaped by the actions and words that are modeled by me as I go through life experiencing the good and the bad.

As I reflect on my modeled behavior and the responsibilities that come with being a parent, I’m reminded of similar responsibilities required of me in my day-to-day professionalism as a lawyer. Although there is a book for our professional conduct that regulates and defines our professional conduct, most of what we learn about professionalism as young lawyers comes from behavior modeled to us by older lawyers.

We are fortunate in the Wake County Bar to have a substantial contingent of senior lawyers who practice law with the utmost professionalism. This modeled behavior to young lawyers watching is one of the things that makes our bar so special. I remember a particular lesson learned from a senior lawyer of the bar for whom I had great deal of respect (mainly because he beat me most of the time). He was representing the other side in this hotly contested case where the key witness was a law enforcement officer. At the end of all the evidence and arguments, I thought for sure he had won another one. However, to my surprise the verdict went against him and his client. While I was happy to have won, the lesson I learned that day from him was far more meaningful to me. He thanked the court even though he had just received an unfavorable outcome for his client. He sought out and shook the hand of the law enforcement officer, whom he had just recently been grilling with tough questions during a well thought out and lengthy cross examination. Finally, as he passed me on the way out of the court room he softly spoke the words, “Good job.” Now this old trial lawyer had vigorously represented his client, but at the end of the trial, he accepted the result with poise and dignity and was not ill tempered as one might have expected him to be, or adversarial after it was all over.

The take away lesson for me was that this lawyer handled himself with the same professionalism in a loss as he did in a win. The professionalism that was modeled to me that day stuck with me. I find myself almost 18 years later trying to comport my behavior as a lawyer to that level of professionalism that was modeled to me back then.

As lawyers we should always conduct ourselves in a way that honors our profession. No matter where we are, or with whom we interact, it is essential to remember that we must conduct ourselves as professionals. I can only hope that I live up to that standard of professionalism modeled for me almost 18 years ago – for myself and for the young lawyers that may be watching me.

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When is Friending Too Friendly?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, August 16, 2018

by: Deanna Brocker, The Brocker Law Firm

I hear more and more about attorneys connecting with their clients on social media.  The reasoning? There is a greater connection with your clients. It shows you care and that the client isn’t simply a file number.  Perhaps the thinking is that social media is an effective way to get your name out, connect with many different people, and solidify your brand.  From a marketing perspective, it may make sense.

It is not unethical to connect with a client on social media through Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and the like.  There is no rule that says you can’t, but is it a good idea? Here are some reasons to think before you connect:

· Social media tends to be informal.  Consider whether this is the kind of relationship you want with your clients.

· The informality associated with some kinds of social media may encourage the client to communicate with you outside of normal business hours.

· Because of the informality, clients may be tempted to discuss their case with you online. Consider attorney-client privilege waiver issues and confidentiality problems if the client overshares.

· Think about how you usually use social media.  Is it primarily personal or for business? Does sharing what you ate for dinner really promote your brand? Consider establishing a separate Facebook page for firm news, professional activities and accolades.  Or connect with clients only through professional sites like LinkedIn.

· Consider the kind of information shared and what the client may learn about you.  Are your personal Facebook posts the kind of information you want your clients to see, or is it information that really should be reserved for friends and family? 

· Your clients may have religious or political beliefs that are vastly different from your own.  They may not get your sense of humor, or they may be easily offended.  Your posts may inadvertently alienate some clients.

· Keep in mind that clients would also see what other friends or family will post about you, if tagged.  Does your mom post embarrassing pictures of you from middle school?  Or what if a friend posted a less than dignified video of you playing a game of charades at a party?  While this silliness won’t sink a career, it may not be the professional image that you want to project.

Aside from potential boundary issues, there is a real concern that this informal connection may implicitly encourage communication about the client’s case if you have connected with a client during the representation.  You already have an affirmative obligation to advise certain litigation clients about the dangers or risks of posting on social media and how those posts may affect their case. See 2014 FEO 5.

In my view, if you don’t already have an existing friendship with a client, it is prudent to keep your professional and personal life separate, especially if you are currently representing a client in litigation. Develop your brand and your connections through a law firm Facebook page or a professional platform such as LinkedIn.  You may be the life of the party, but unless you would want your clients at that party, think twice before inviting them in.

https://www.ncbar.gov/for-lawyers/ethics/adopted-opinions/2014-formal-ethics-opinion-5/?opinionSearchTerm=social

 

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Sexism: The Elephant in the Courtroom

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, August 14, 2018

by: Judge Ashleigh Parker Dunston, Wake County District Court

My dad always told me that I can be anything I put my mind to.  He actually encouraged me to be a doctor instead of a lawyer, which is ironic since he retired as a prosecutor.  He also made it very clear to me that I would be treated differently because of 2 "strikes" against me: my gender and my race.  One common misconception is that the higher the education or profession, the less likely that sexism and racism exists.  Even in light of the recent #metoo movement, we, as professionals, tend to distance ourselves from having this difficult conversation because we don’t believe that sexism is a problem in our field; hence, the elephant in the room. 

Sexism is defined by Merriam-Webster as prejudice or discrimination that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex. Sexism is also one of the least discussed topics when we talk about attorney professionalism.  In fact, when I attempted to research applicable Rules of Professional Conduct that directly relate to inappropriate comments or actions not occurring in the courtroom to fellow attorneys, the closest that I found was Rule 3.5: Impartiality and Decorum, Comment 10, Rule 4.4: Respect for Rights of Third Persons, Comment 2, and Rule 8.4: Misconduct, Comment 5.  I encourage you to take a look at these rules and determine for yourself whether you deem them directly on point. 

In my experience as an Assistant District Attorney and Assistant Attorney General, I have been asked in open court if I am “Mr. _____’s secretary,” if I am an intern, ignored during calendar call, discouraged from positions, so on and so forth.  But this article isn’t about me, it’s about all of the women throughout our bar who have experienced sexism and misogyny in their professional careers.  The following are true accounts from women throughout the 10th Judicial District Bar.  I solicited their stories because I wanted to ensure that we all understand that this is a problem that we cannot avoid talking about.  It’s the elephant in the courtroom, boardroom, and breakroom that is negatively affecting your colleagues every day.  My hope is that through sharing these experiences, we can begin to discuss ways to change this dynamic and speak up when we see instances of sexism taking place.  To those who bravely shared--thank you, to those who wanted to share, but couldn’t--thank you, and to those who stood up for these women--thank you!

{These stories have been edited for brevity, clarity, and, in some cases, to protect the victims.}

“Several years ago, a male colleague called and berated me over the phone in the presence of another colleague for over 5 minutes. It was allegedly because of an email where he believed that I had belittled him, although I hadn’t. I was in complete shock and was busy trying to find a rational answer for his behavior that I didn’t call him out for his unprofessionalism and verbal abuse, which still makes me mad at myself today. I’m now aware of several other times when he has yelled at others, but like my interaction, most have been unreported or, if reported, not really dealt with.”

“I’ve never been treated differently by those in my firms because of my gender, but I have encountered issues from third-parties. I’ve been asked if I was my boss’ paralegal.  Once he found out that that was an issue, he made sure to always introduce me as an attorney to try and prevent it.  I’ve also had opposing counsel that has had an issue with the fact that he was litigating against a woman.”

“When I was a brand-new attorney, I handled a motion in court extremely well.  An older male partner in my firm was with me, and when I and opposing counsel finished our arguments, the judge proceeded to ignore me for the rest of the proceedings although I was the one who handled the case.  I felt offended and confused, but it gave me energy and motivated me to not only continue to excel in my field, but also to never treat other people the way I’d been treated that day.”

“Most notably, I have had a male attorney approach me and ask me to stand up and turn around in a circle so that he could see what kind of ‘little dress’ I was wearing that day and what it looked like on me.  He then told me to not be surprised when he sent all of the other attorneys in to come and look at me.  Later, when I was looking at something on a colleague’s computer, he proceeded to tell my superior that the reason that he was stopping by was so that he could watch me bend over.  I’m a curvier woman who tries to clothe myself appropriately for my shape and age; however, I’ve noticed that men use that as an opportunity to pass judgment and make crude or inappropriate gestures to me.”

“When I walked into the courtroom with my older, white, male paralegal, the judge asked him if he was ready to proceed, despite my name being on every pleading filed in the case.  I stood, smiled, and advised him that I was the attorney for the department and was ready to proceed.”

“When I was a new attorney, I was working on a case against an older male attorney who called my male boss to complain that I was referring to him by his first name instead of Mr. ___.  He believed this to be disrespectful, although he had referred to me as, ‘honey, darling, sweetie,’ etc. in our phone conversations.  Thankfully, my boss gave him a lesson in professionalism, informing him that, as colleagues, he expected we would all call each other by our first names regardless of years of practice--or gender.”

“While at a firm retreat, a male associate groped my private parts without my consent.  When I later confronted him, he claimed to be drunk.   It caused me significant pain because I felt like, as an attorney, how could I advocate for anyone when I couldn’t advocate for myself?”

“I have been consistently called ‘aggressive’ and a ‘ball buster’ by men.”

“I worked at a law firm where men were constantly scoping out new female hires to ‘grade’ them on their looks.  If there was one who was deemed to be less attractive, they’d give the woman a nickname like ‘Fat So and So.’  I once heard them state that a very competent and kind female attorney had legs that looked like ‘pigs wrestling under her skirt.’”

“Once, while in the attorney room, several male attorneys started complaining about prosecutors and began to demean one female prosecutor in particular.  One referred to her as a c**t, and others chimed in using a variety of four and five letter words.  It was as if I was invisible, so I eventually picked up my folders to make it evident that I was present and walked out.”

“When my client’s name was called out, I went to the defense desk as my client made her way to the front.  The male judge asked me where my lawyer was.”

“I am a Wake County retired emergency judge.  I graduated from UNC School of Law in 1975 and immediately went to work as the first female assistant district attorney in Wake County.  There were only a handful of female attorneys in the county at the time.  So few, in fact, that I used to say we could all meet in a courthouse elevator and still have room to spare! 

Several years into my job as a prosecutor, there was a vacancy on the district court bench.  A rumor was going around that I was interested in it, which, at the time, I wasn’t.  A white male prosecutor, who was interested, dropped by my office and asked if I was going to pursue an appointment to the vacant position.  Apparently, just because I was female, he thought the appointment would be given to me, because he said ‘I’m tired of Anglo Saxon males being discriminated against.’  I have no recollection of how I responded to that, but I do remember thinking ‘You’ve got to be kidding.  You have no idea what discrimination is!’

A few weeks later, I was attending a Wake County Bar Association Christmas party.  I was approached by a middle aged white male attorney who asked if I was going to try to get appointed to the vacant judgeship.  I said no, and he said ‘Good.  I don’t think women should be judges.’  I’m sure this was just an offhand comment to him, but I was shocked, offended and speechless.  I quietly walked away, wishing I had been quick enough to come up with an appropriate response to his remark.  I was surprised by what these two men had said to me, particularly since most of the men in the Wake County bar had been welcoming to me when I started working in the District Attorney’s Office. 

I doubt that the two lawyers who made these comments even remember them, but they have stuck with me all these years.  In the 1980s, I became a judge, after running one time and losing, and then being on 4 separate appointment lists that went to two governors.  It was obviously not as easy for me to get appointed to the bench as that male prosecutor thought it would be!  I can’t begin to tell you how proud I was as we added one female judge after another to the Wake County District Court bench.  With each new addition, I remembered the lawyers’ comments.  The poetic justice in the number of women on the bench now is much better than any response I could have given when those sexist remarks were made to me so many years ago.

They are certainly not the only personal examples I could share, as there have been others over the years, but these comments made a lasting impression on me.  Fortunately, these experiences have been greatly outweighed by the tremendous support and kindness shown to me by numerous other male attorneys.”

 

If you experience or witness these or similar acts of sexism, please find someone you trust and confide in them and remember that these experiences do not define you.  Sexist and misogynistic comments and actions hurt, distract, and erode the profession.  So now that we’re aware of the elephant, we should all do our part to end sexism and raise the bar of professionalism in Wake County.

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Purposeful Mentoring

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, August 14, 2018

by: Megan West Sherron, Campbell Law School Assistant General Counsel & Assistant Dean of External Relations

Mentoring is an experience that most of us have at some point in our career.  Perhaps your first mentor was your supervising attorney in your first job or maybe it was an informal connection with an attorney you admired.  However you came to find a mentor, they all provide value to us in multiple ways.  Legal mentoring has four specific functions and mentors can provide all or one of these various functions.[1] 

One of the first and most significant functions of mentorship is career mentoring.  Career mentoring is all about helping a protégé learn the ropes and advance in their career.[2]  This type of mentoring should help a protégé develop networking skills, instill time-management, assist with career planning, and provide practical legal knowledge.  People who have had career mentoring report greater career outcomes including advancement and compensation.[3]

Psychosocial mentoring is another important function that mentoring can provide.  This function is about creating self-esteem and professional and personal growth for a protégé.[4]  This type of mentoring is accomplished through challenging yet manageable work assignments, feedback, acceptance and confirmation, and even something as simple as coffee and a conversation.  This function is powerful because it affects how a protégé is likely to feel about their job.[5]

Legal mentoring has two additional functions that business mentoring does not have, role-modeling and professionalism.[6]  Role-modeling focuses on developing professional standards, knowledge, and skills.[7]  This could include lessons in getting and maintaining clients, relationship management, counseling, negotiations, finding solutions to legal issues, and practice management.  The professionalism function focuses on instilling the ethical standards required by the legal profession.[8]

Mentorship is a unique relationship in which one or all of these functions come to play.  Recognizing where you need mentoring or perhaps where you could be a good mentor is an important step in a successful mentorship relationship.  The Campbell Law Connections Mentorship program will start again this August and we welcome new mentors and new attorney protégés to join our program.  For additional information on the program and requirements, please contact Megan West Sherron at sherron@campbell.edu.

 


[1] Neil Hamilton & Lisa Montpetit Brabbit, Fostering Professionalism through Mentoring, 57 J. Legal Educ. 102 (2007).

[2] BELLE ROSE RAGINS & KATHY E. KRAM, THE HANDBOOK OF MENTORING AT WORK: THEORY, RESEARCH, AND PRACTICE 5 (Sage Publications, Inc. 2007).

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 5-6.

[6] Hamilton et al., supra note 1, at 108-109.

[7] Id.

[8] Id. at 109.

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The Legacy of Professionalism

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, August 14, 2018

by: Ryan Shuirman, Yates McLamb & Weyher LLP

There’s a saying about standing on the shoulders of giants, and we are lucky to practice in a community where there are so many giants providing us sure footing.  The collegiality we enjoy here truly is not enjoyed in a lot of other places, and we clearly have our predecessors to thank. 

If you’re as fortunate as me and have had a chance to practice with some local lawyers to whom the utmost in professional conduct comes naturally, then you’ve gotten a firsthand look at the ideals of our profession in practice.  We can all aspire to those ideals, but we’re even more fortunate when our partners’ actions send a clear signal of what is expected in our special bar.

Recently, a younger associate in our firm attended a deposition with one our firm’s senior partners.  When he returned to the office, he mentioned that so much of the professional style of the senior partner was what he had seen and read in transcripts from depositions taken by others in our office.  He found it remarkable that despite such disparate personalities and practice specialties within even our firm, the professional way of handling witnesses and opposing counsel in depositions was so consistent among our lawyers.

The explanation for this consistency is not that the lawyers in our firm have individually studied the Rules of Professional Conduct and independently reached some standard for how issues will be handled.  Rather, the obvious explanation is that those who came before us knew how to conduct themselves professionally and they have mostly unintentionally, but sometimes intentionally, served as examples for how things simply “should be done the right way.”

The truth is we’re not unique in how we approach our work professionally.  Truer still – we are not original in our professional approach.  Each of us is a product of our observations of other lawyers who have come before us, and we owe a debt of gratitude to those who have shown us what to do.  Don’t miss opportunities to be the example others can emulate, especially during summer clerk season and as new members of the bar are sworn in this fall.  Younger lawyers and students are looking.  And if we want the next generations of Wake County lawyers to have as fulfilling a practice as we are lucky to enjoy, then we can only do what those who have come before us have done so naturally for so long.  Few things in the practice of law can be more satisfying than knowing younger lawyers take from you a bit of the professional wisdom you learned from those before you.

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Hey Opposing Counsel: Let Me Give You a Hand

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, August 14, 2018

by: Katie King

Not long ago, I was watching the semi-final round of a mock trial competition.  Single elimination.  The first team had presented a flawless case – until one of the advocates, in the middle of a smooth cross-examination, stood before the jury for nearly two minutes struggling to set up a faulty easel.  It was like watching a famous figure skater, moments away from completing a 10.0 routine, wipe out on his final double axel. 

A student from the second team quietly stood up, pulled his own easel out from behind his counsel table, and walked it across the courtroom for the other team to use.  It was a stunning act of professionalism for any lawyer, much less a law student. 

When I was in my first year of practice as an assistant district attorney, there were many moments where I wiped out on that double axel.  Sometimes, I didn’t even know how I came to be sitting on the ice or how to get back up.  There was one defense attorney, an older attorney who had the benefit of wisdom and experience, who would talk to me after each motion or trial we had.  His conversation would start with, “Let me tell you why I said this…” or “Here’s why you can’t argue that case under these circumstances…”

He made me a better lawyer with each piece of advice.  He probably also saved himself having to rebut legally inaccurate arguments or motions that didn’t rest on solid footing from a novice attorney.  It is this kind of informal conversation and general amiability that betters our profession as a whole.  For the older lawyers, when you see a young lawyer making a common mistake: pull her aside after court or telephone her to give some helpful advice.  Trust me, it will be more appreciated than you can imagine.  For younger lawyers, the value is in listening. 

Sometimes the common courtesies that we extend to one another as human beings are checked at security along with the rest of our briefcases and file folders. The adversarial system has a tempting way of turning us as attorneys into adversaries.  But we are not adversaries – not personally anyways.  Zealous advocates standing at irreconcilable positions?  Perhaps – but never enemies.  The Golden Rule applies as well in the courtroom as it does in the cathedral, convenience store, or anywhere else:

Treat others as you would like to be treated.  

 

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