'Professionalism Must Come From Within,' Lawyers Told
by Alan Hunt
Respected Dallas attorney James "Blackie" Holmes tackled the question of professionalism within the legal profession in a recent speech at Baylor Law School, telling his audience of more than 100 attorneys, "the problem is with us, and it is up to us to slay the dragon."
He said if lawyers want professionalism to be a reality, they must be willing to make a commitment that it will not only be reflected "in our daily conduct but will be enshrined in our hearts as well."
Reminding his audience of the American Bar Association's view that the erosion of professionalism is one of the great challenges facing the bar, he said, "True professionalism cannot be legislated. Ethical conduct can be codified, but professionalism must come from within the lawyer."
Holmes, a partner with the Dallas law firm of Burford & Ryburn, L.L.P., was among speakers at a day-long seminar designed to improve jury selection skills, presented by the Waco Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates. He pointed out, "We are a profession and must never forget it. Each day we must renew our commitment to those principles which make the practice of law such a noble endeavor."
Discussing possible reasons for "the situation in which we find ourselves," the veteran attorney asked, "Is it increased salaries to associates who feel the need to worship at the altar of the billable hour, resulting in unnecessary paperwork, and hedging on timesheet entries, or competition for legal representation, or lack of true implementation of a mentor system or just downright erosion in the character of society?"
Whatever the cause, he said members of the legal profession should make "a full, good faith effort" to address the problem. He even questioned whether the onslaught of technology in the legal profession "has affected our civility to one another in what should be an admired profession." He said this new technology makes it a lot easier to "spit out" generic discovery forms and reams of paperwork. "The paper battle is horrendous," he said, "and we are all guilty of it. I truly believe if your first motion to compel discovery contains a demand for sanctions, then counsel should be required to write the motion in longhand."
Holmes went on, "Fortunately, many have embarked upon a journey to rid the legal profession of conduct demeaning to the attorney, our profession and our client. In 1987, in response to widespread discovery abuse and so-called Rambo tactics, the Dallas Bar Association implemented its 'Lawyer's Creed and Guidelines for Professional Courtesy.' Several other Texas cities followed with creeds or guidelines, including Houston, Austin, San Antonio and Corpus Christi. In 1988, the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and the Texas Association of Defense Counsel implemented their joint guidelines of professionalism." Holmes said the following year, the Supreme Court of Texas and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals jointly adopted 'The Texas Lawyer's Creed - A Mandate for Professionalism."
He pointed out, "Just to be aware of the creed's existence is a step in the right direction. Knowledge of its contents is a giant step in the right direction, and adherence to its aspirational dictates is the utopia for which we strive."
Holmes added, "While the finger can be pointed at many, it is incumbent that we start with ourselves, as members of the practicing bar, to work together in an attempt to change the trend. The time has come where we, as members of a most prestigious profession, start behaving as such, especially among ourselves. Only by unified effort within the legal community will the erosion of professionalism ever be reversed. I believe that the guidelines and creeds are a magnificent start in the solution of the present problems within the legal community."