When it comes to jokes, lawyers get a bad rap, yet even an attorney will laugh along with the best of them. Most jokes about lawyers are harmless. They do nothing to discourage law school registration numbers, and few lawyers are going to change how they practice law because of a cocktail-party joke.
In all seriousness, lawyers are held to a strict code of ethics written by the states they practice in, and by the American Bar Association. There can be serious consequences for failing to live up to the codes American attorneys practice under.
Codes and Penalties
Every attorney has a professional responsibility to represent their client to the best of their ability, but that is just one small element of the professional behavior expected of lawyers in the U.S. The American Bar Association’s Model Rules of professional conduct cover everything from the attorney-client relationship, interactions with people other than clients, public service, issues surrounding firm ownership, avoiding conflicts of interest, and much more. All states except California have modeled their code of conduct on the ABA’s model.
The penalties for breaching the code of conduct depend on the severity of the breach. The punishment can range from private or public censure, fines, required retraining, suspension of the law license, and lastly, the most severe punishment is disbarment. Disbarment is typically reserved for only the most egregious of actions. Now, of course, no attorney worth their salt is going to quietly accept a punishment they don’t feel they deserve. There is an appeals process.
Truth in Humor
Okay, so why all the lawyer jokes? It is said that there is always a little truth in jokes. If that’s so, there are a lot of attorneys at the bottom of the ocean. The truth is that a few bad apples in the profession have inspired jokes, but the vast majority of lawyers are ethical professionals. Also, the very clear work of an attorney on behalf of the interests of their client can make them seem unfair to the parties on the other side of a case. Some people also have very little understanding of the amount of work an attorney does on their behalf, or the gamble lawyers take on contingency cases, so the fees can seem unfair.
There are also many people who have been on the losing side of a case, and they tend to blame the attorney that worked for the other side. This can engender a host of bad feelings for the whole profession. It’s not entirely fair, but people have a lot riding on court cases of all kinds, and when they lose, they may look for a scapegoat.
Law schools take seriously their charge to train ethical professionals. They have to offer professional conduct courses for all students. This is the best place to cover the ABA code of conduct and prepare the students for practicing ethically in the real world. Law students learn from early on that they do not operate with impunity. There is a tested framework in place to govern their profession.
Lawyers should keep laughing at the jokes aimed at them. A little self-degrading humor is good for ego control. Very few people will take these jokes seriously, and in truth, most people look up to attorneys. Although, some people just don’t like lawyers, that is, until they need one.
Jennifer Carrigan writes on behalf of www.aogllp.com where their team of dedicated attorneys and counselors are there to help you through your case.